IRIN-CEA Weekly Round-up 12 covering the period 18 - 24 March 2000

Report
from IRIN
Published on 24 Mar 2000
UNITED NATIONS
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
for Central and Eastern Africa
Tel: +254 2 622147
Fax: +254 2 622129
e-mail: irin@ocha.unon.org

RWANDA: President resigns

President Pasteur Bizimungu resigned from office on Thursday, citing "personal reasons" in his letter of resignation to the National Assembly. In a second letter, Bizimungu submitted his resignation as vice-president, executive committee member and political bureau member of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), but said he would continue to serve the movement as an ordinary party member, the Rwanda News Agency (RNA) reported. "I have tried my best to serve the movement and the country. At the same time, I ask your pardon for what may not have gone so well," he wrote to RPF president (and Rwandan Vice-President) Paul Kagame.

Bizimungu on Monday condemned parliament for the late announcement of the new Rwandan government - more than a month after the resignation of the former prime minister Pierre-Celestin Rwigema. "You chased away ministers, you chased away the speaker of parliament, you made a government fall... and I myself was almost sacked. There is a real problem with parliament's method of working," RNA quoted him as saying. Observers had noted differences between Bizimungu and Kagame over the composition of the new government, notably whether to keep Patrick Mazimhaka, the minister in the president's office. Mazimhaka, a close ally of Bizimungu's, was left out of the new government amid accusations of corruption.

Kagame, as vice-president, has taken over the running of the country until an interim president is named, Chief Justice Simeon Rwagasore told IRIN on Friday.

RWANDA: New government announced

The new Rwandan government was sworn in on Monday. Apart from Mazimhaka's replacement, new foreign, commerce and environment ministers were announced.

BURUNDI: FDD ready to go to Arusha

The main rebel leader, Jean-Bosco Ndayikengurikiye, has said his group - the Forces pour la defense de la democratie (FDD) - is now willing to take part in the Arusha peace process. The South African news agency (SAPA) said the announcement was made by Burundi talks facilitator Nelson Mandela after he met Ndayikengurukiye in South Africa on Monday. However, the rebel leader put forward "non-negotiable" conditions for his participation, including the dismantling of regroupment camps in Burundi and the release of prisoners.

Burundi analyst Jan van Eck of the South Africa-based Centre for Conflict Resolution described the move as a "great achievement and a major step forward" for the Arusha process. "There is now a genuine tone of seriousness to the talks," he told IRIN on Tuesday. The development could really move the process forward as there could be genuine discussions on the cessation of hostilities between the belligerents.

BURUNDI: Arusha talks to resume next week

The Arusha peace talks are set to resume next week, news organisations reported on Tuesday. This round of talks, which will start on Monday 27 March, is unlikely to include the rebel FDD, despite leader Jean-Bosco Ndayikengurukiye's conditional pledge to participate. A representative of the facilitation team, Mark Bomani, said it was "too early" to involve the FDD. The facilitator, Nelson Mandela, who will be in Arusha, is expected to meet other armed rebel factions this week, the Arusha-based Internews service reported.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Serious fighting reported on eastern front

Three separate offensives in Kasai and Katanga provinces - two by the rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) and Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA), and one by the Forces armees congolaises (FAC) and its allies from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) - represent a serious deterioration in the DRC conflict, military and diplomatic sources told IRIN on Wednesday. They added that the situation was very dangerous for the region as a whole. On the one hand, according to independent sources within the country, the RCD and RPA have undertaken the offensive that caused the fighting around Idumbe in Kasai Occidental, and which analysts consider may be an effort to cut communications between Ilebo and Kananga. Between 150 and 200 government and allied soldiers are believed to have been killed in the offensive, the sources said. At the same time, the RCD and RPA have reportedly launched another attack around Kabinda, and there is speculation that both of these operations may be part of a grand plan to isolate the allied-held diamond centre of Mbuji-Mayi.

The government side, meanwhile, has not been standing still and has launched its own offensive in North Katanga and South Kivu along a line between Kabalo and Kongolo, independent military sources said. There are no reports of casualties but, again, this is reported to be a large operation. What is clear, according to analysts, is that these military offensives - all of them ongoing - are not just skirmishes or low-intensity ceasefire violations, but are "preplanned large scale offensive actions". In contrast, the northern front is reported to be quiet at the moment, but "extensive preparations" for war suggest that it will not remain so, the observers added.

DRC: Security Council demands "immediate stop" to offensives

The UN Security Council on Wednesday expressed its deep frustration over the renewed military offensives and warned the combatants that the planned deployment of a 5,500-strong UN mission could not proceed amid renewed fighting. "Council members expressed their dismay at the new offensive launched in the province of Kasai, which resulted in the seizure of the town of Idumbe," Ambassador Anwar Karim Chowdhury of Bangladesh, who holds the Council's rotating presidency, said in a press statement.

DRC: Masire blocked from visiting rebel-held areas

The facilitator of the inter-Congolese dialogue provided for by the Lusaka agreement, former President of Botswana Ketumile Masire, was on Wednesday prevented from travelling from Kinshasa to rebel-held areas by the Congolese authorities, according to a BBC report. In a interview with the BBC on Thursday morning, Congolese Foreign Minister Yerodia Ndombasi said Masire had informed the government of his travel plans beforehand, and that a meeting had been scheduled with him to "sort out the confusion". Masire was scheduled to travel to the three rebel headquarters of
Gbadolite, Bunia and Goma. "This shows you that [DRC President Laurent-Desire] Kabila is a real problem to the peace process. Masire was coming here to get the views of the Congolese. Who is Kabila to stop him? These are not encouraging signs and the international community should take note of this - otherwise, we are back to nothing," an MLC official told IRIN on Thursday.

UGANDA: Changes in DRC-based army command

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has changed the army command in the DRC-based contingent. "This is not a reshuffle, it is a new deployment of commanders already in the area," Ugandan army spokesman Captain Shaban Bantariza told IRIN on Monday. He said two extra people had been brought in "as the commander-in-chief [President Museveni] wants more coordination of the forces who are spread over a big territory". "That is why different commanders have been allocated sectors to be in direct contact with the forces."

SUDAN: MSF slams Sudanese air attacks

Medecins sans Frontieres has condemned the "deliberate targeting" of schools and hospitals by the Sudanese air force. In a statement, issued on Monday, it said it had issued a report based on testimonies gathered throughout 1999. "Evidence has been found and serious allegations have been made that weapons of an internationally prohibited nature are regularly employed against the civilian population, such as cluster bombs and bombs with chemical contents," MSF's Director of Operations Thierry Durand said. The organisation called for an immediate end to the "regular and deliberate" violation of human rights in southern Sudan.

SUDAN: Ummah party quits NDA

The Ummah Party, led by Sadiq al-Mahdi, has quit the opposition umbrella National Democratic Alliance (NDA) after the NDA rejected Ummah's bid to try and reconcile with Khartoum, news organisations reported. The Sudanese government on Saturday hailed the move as an "important development" towards reconciliation. In a statement, the Ummah party said it had withdrawn from the NDA "more in sadness, than anger". It also accused rebel SPLA leader John Garang of "fanning the flames of conflict".

ETHIOPIA: WFP concerned over Ogaden situation

WFP has expressed concern over the deteriorating food situation in Ethiopia's Ogaden region due to the late arrival of the short belg rains, which should have started four weeks ago. "Right now, we do not have supplementary food in the pipeline," said WFP country director Judith Lewis in a statement. "The situation in the Somali region [Ogaden] is critical...Lack of water remains a main concern, and with that, all the related health concerns." Calling for urgent donor intervention, she warned that food stocks would only last until mid-July.

Meanwhile, Ethiopia is to ration electricity following the failure of the short rains, the pro-government Walta information centre reported.

SOMALIA: Aideed says Djibouti peace plan "won't work"

Faction leader Hussein Aideed has explained that his Somali National Alliance (SNA) is not opposed to the idea of the Djibouti peace proposal, but said it could not work as it stood because the reconciliation programme was "not clear". The 'Xog Ogaal' newspaper said he told a news conference in Mogadishu on Monday that, furthermore, the SNA held Djibouti responsible for crimes against the Somali people. He also criticised the current Djibouti president Ismael Omar Guelleh for "remaining silent on Ethiopia's continuous meddling in Somalia's internal affairs".

REPUBLIC OF CONGO: More displaced people return home

A trainload of 2,300 displaced people returned to their villages, some 50 km from Brazzaville, on Sunday, the ICRC said in a statement. It said they came from the Pool region and had taken refuge in the capital in late 1999 when fighting broke out in their areas. The ICRC pointed out that lack of maintenance had left a number of roads in very poor condition and access to certain villages from Brazzaville was only possible by rail.

Nairobi, 24 March 2000

[ENDS]

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