JRS Dispatches No. 187
Twice monthly news bulletin from the Jesuit Refugee Service International Office
REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS
UGANDA: INCREASE EXPECTED IN ASYLUM SEEKERS IN KAMPALA
On 9 February, Reuters news agency reported at least 55,000 people have been displaced in North and South Kivu, eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as a result of fighting between the army and armed groups.
Since fighting erupted on 17 January in the Rutshuru district of North Kivu, tens of thousands of people have fled, mostly within the country but also to neighbouring Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.
It is believed a Rwandan-backed rebel leader ordered the attack on the Congolese Army. The rebels were repelled first by Congolese troops. After losing grounds to the rebels, the government troops were assisted by MONUC, UN peacekeepers in the DRC, to repel the rebels. According to IRIN, the UN news agency, the latest wave of attacks - on 28 and 29 January in Rutshuru distict - displaced about 2,200 civilians.
"The majority of those killed were civilians particularly women and children. Many of those who managed to escape death end up traumatised, infected with sexually transmitted diseases or severely injured", said Mr Kuteesa Stephen,Assistant Programme Officer, Urban Refugee Programme, JRS Uganda.
Changes made late last year meant all new asylum seekers were sent to camps outside of the Ugandan capital of Kampala. JRS Uganda reported many Congolese asylum seekers failed to register and remained in Kampala irregularly.
In January, the Ugandan government reversed the decision, enabling Congolese asylum seekers to register in Kampala. Ms Janet Otte, JRS Programme Officer, Urban Refugee Programme, told Dispatches on 9 January that she now expects a sharp increase in the number of Congolese asylum seekers seeking assistance in Kampala.
COTE D'IVOIRE: UN SANCTIONS IMPOSED ON POLITICAL LEADERS
On 7 February 2006, the UN Security Council placed a 12-month travel ban and assets freeze on three of the country's political leaders accused of obstructing efforts to bring peace to the divided country.
The Security Council sanctions committee issued a statement calling on member states to "prevent the entry or transit" and "freeze immediately the funds" of Charles Ble Goude, Eugene Djue and Martin Kouakou Fofie who it said constituted "a threat to the peace and reconciliation process in Cote d'Ivoire".
Last month, Charles Ble Goude and Eugene Djue, leaders of the Young Patriots movement loyal to Cote d'Ivoire's President Laurent Gbagbo, called on their supporters to demand the departure of UN and French peacekeepers. The sanctions committee identified Martin Kouakou Fofie, a commander of the rebel New Forces movement, as responsible for serious human rights violations in the northern city of Korhogo.
"We are grateful these sanctions did not result in another round of protests. This may allow services to be restored to those refugees and displaced persons cut off during the mid-January protests. Hopefully the peace process can begin to gain some momentum now", said Mr Robert Boedeker, JRS Cote d'Ivoire Director.
The imposition of sanctions were triggered after hundreds of peacekeepers were forced to retreat as protesters set fire to UN vehicles and offices and ransacked compounds and humanitarian stores. Around 400 civilian staff have been temporarily evacuated and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has warned that Gbagbo and his military chief of staff will be held personally responsible for new disturbances. In its statement, the sanctions committee indicated it would "continue to update the (sanctions) list on a regular basis".
Cote d'Ivoire split in two after a failed coup to oust Gbagbo in September 2002. The UN maintains a force of 7,000 blue helmets working alongside 4,000 French peacekeepers.
LIBERIA: NEW POLITICAL ORDER PULLING LIBERIAN REFUGEES HOME
On 9 February, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, described the new political order in Liberia as paving the way for the return of Liberian refugees from neighbouring Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Those coming from Sierra Leone and Guinea received an assistance package from UNHCR.
According to UNHCR sources, the refugees heeding the call to return and help rebuild the country on 17 January from the country's first women president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, have been streaming home. The refugee agency announced it was accelerating the repatriation of Liberian refugees, taking advantage of the better road conditions during the dry season expected to end in June.
As more refugees are expected to return in the months to come, UNHCR highlighted their reintegration in their home societies and the country's reconstruction as priorities. UNHCR has expanded its capacity countrywide through new community projects, including repairing shelters, roads, water points, schools and clinics. So far, more than 46,000 Liberian refugees have been assisted to come home by sea, air and overland routes under the voluntary repatriation exercise launched by UNHCR on 1 October 2004.
Since a peace deal signed in 2003, about half a million Liberians returned home, including 200,000 refugees and 300,000 people displaced within Liberia. This has left some 190,000 refugees, mainly in Guinea (54,000), Sierra Leone (50,000), Ivory Coast (42,000), and Ghana (39,000).
ZAMBIA: YET ANOTHER URGENT PLEA TO AVERT REFUGEE FOOD CRISIS
On 8 February, according to IRIN, the UN news agency, the Zambian Foreign Affairs Minister, Ronnie Shikapwasha, urged donors to help end a food crisis affecting refugees hosted by the country. Mr Shikapwasha told a meeting of donors that approximately 70,000 refugees were currently on half-rations and food stocks would run out by the end of March. On 7 February, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced it would donate an additional 2,000 metric tons of emergency food aid for refugees in Zambia. The donation came in response to an appeal by the World Food Programme (WFP), which provides food to the refugees from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which includes those living in camps and remote settlements in Zambia thus relying on WFP for their basic food needs. The value of the food donation is approximately $863,900 including the value of the emergency food, ocean and internal transport, storage and handling costs. According to USAID, this amount of food is enough to replenish the diminished WFP stock levels, enable WFP to reverse cuts in refugee rations, and avert further cuts for the next two months.
SRI LANKA REBELS : BLEW THEMSELVES UP
On 11 February, Reuters news agency reported a statement by the Sri Lankan military accusing the Tamil rebels, the LTTE, of using a trawler to smuggler weapons before blowing the boat up to avoid being caught ahead of peace talks
in Switzerland later this month. Denying all involvement, a spokesman for the LTTE described the trawler as an innocent Sri Lankan or Indian fishing boat. The rebels have routinely denied involvement in recent incidents. The military said one of its fast attack boats had intercepted a deep sea trawler heading for a rebel-held section of the island's northwest coast. As it moved in to investigate, the trawler exploded, damaging the warship and critically injuring a sailor. A string of suspected rebel attacks on the military in the Tamil-dominated north and east in December and January all but destroyed a 2002 truce. However, tensions eased after the two sides agreed to a meeting in Switzerland now set for22-23 February.
Analysts warn that while both sides might be genuinely keen on peace, the gap between them remains vast. Both the army and rebels are probably still arming for a return to a two-decade war which killed more than 64,000 people. Peace talks were only agreed to in late January after Norwegian government resolved an impasse over the venue. Shortly after the talks, the LTTE blamed the government for the disappearance of seven Tamil aid workers. The Geneva talks will focus only on stopping the killings and ensuring the 2002 truce holds. President Mahinda Rajapakse and his hardline Buddhist and Marxist allies are seen as reluctant to budge on the LTTE demands for a Tamil homeland. Humanitarian staff worry any new violence would hit communities still recovering from both the 2004 tsunami and two decades of conflict.
HAITI: GANG LEADER OFFERS PEACE IN TROUBLED SLUM
On 10 February, according to Reuters news agency, the gangs that control the biggest slums in Haiti will surrender their guns if Rene Preval becomes president. The gang leader, Augudson Nicolas, also known as General Toutou, said gangs would publicly hand over their guns bringing peace to the heavily armed slums, like Cite Soleil with a population of over 300,000.
Though early returns indicate Preval will win, he is expected to have to contest a run off election with the second placed candidate on 19 March. However, this is not the first time armed gangs have offered to disarm. Taming Cite Soleil, beset by gunfire and kidnappings, is seen as essential to ending the violence which has plagued Haiti since an armed revolt ousted Jean- Bertrand Aristide, the last elected president and a hero to many of the poor, in 2004.Nicolas, 29, said the gang warfare in Cite Soleil has been a political battle against interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue's "illegal" U.S.-backed government,appointed when Aristide was driven into exile.
Nicolas has been accused by police of murder and other crimes, including complicity in the slaying of journalist Jacques Roche last July. He has denied all involvement in his death.
COLOMBIA: KEY PARAMILITARY LEADER DISARMS
On 7 February, according to Associated Press, one of the founders of Colombia's anti-rebel paramilitary movement established over 30 years ago, the AUC, disarmed. In a ceremony in Puerto Triunfo, 150 km from the capital Bogata, Ramon Isaza, joined by 990 members of his local Medio Magdalena unit of the AUC, surrendered 754 weapons and 15 vehicles. This brought to more than 22,000 right-wing combatants to demobilise under a peace deal between the AUC and the government. In exchange for promising never to take up arms again, each militant will receive a monthly stipend of about US $180 and amnesty from prosecution for rebellion and other minor crimes. AUC leaders such as Isaza will serve a maximum of eight years in jail if found guilty of more serious crimes, including massacres. Members of the local Medio Magdalena unit of the AUC have been blamed for several atrocities against civilians, including the 1998 massacre of more than 25 residents in a shanty town area of Barrancabermeja city. So far, however, Colombia's largest rebel group, the FARC, has rejected the government offers, but the smaller National Liberation Army is scheduled to hold a second round of preliminary talks in Havana in mid-February.
Uribe has come under attack from many Colombians for being too soft on the paramilitary militias, who, even without arms, reportedly remain the principal power brokers in several rural areas of the country.
INDONESIA: PARLIAMENT SCRUTINISES DRAFT LAW ON ACEH
According to the Jakarta Post, a draft law to finalise the peace deal between Indonesia's government and rebels in Aceh province will be debated throughout the month of February. If passed, which is not certain, the draft document will hand Aceh more powers than any other province in Indonesia. Under the peace agreement, Indonesia must approve laws by 31 March giving Aceh control over most of its affairs and former GAM rebels the chance to form a local political party to compete in direct elections. Aceh's first direct elections to elect a governor should take place in April 2006.
Implementing such a law is the next biggest step after GAM disarmed in December and Indonesia pulled tens of thousands of troop and police reinforcements from Aceh.The draft stipulates local political parties can be established as long as they have branches in half of Aceh's districts and towns. This is a significant break from the past when political parties were required to have branches in more than half of Indonesia's 33 provinces. However, the draft postpones the establishment of regional parties until further regulations are drawn up, expected before February 2007. It is believed that the government does not want GAM members running for office before that time. This means only existing parties can put forward candidates for the governor's job. This would also give time to establish a strong local opposition to GAM.
GAM has accused the government of ignoring one of its key proposals -- letting independent candidates run in April -- which would have allowed former GAM members to run for governor. Other contentious issues are likely to be matters surrounding power sharing between the central government and the Aceh administration.
UPDATES ON JRS PROJECTS AND ACTIVITIES
CAMBODIA: VOCATIONAL TRAINING PROJECT LAUNCHED
On 17 January, JRS Thailand and the refugee organisation, the Karenni Education Department (KED), formally launched their latest non-formal vocational education training project for Karenni refugees from Burma. The establishment of the project underlined the close working relationship on refugee-related issues between the Thai government, and JRS Thailand and KED.
The Thai ministry of Education agreed to assist JRS and KED to provide language courses to refugees. They also agreed to provide the project teaching staff with a three-day training course and the necessary technology equipment, including solar panels, a computer etc. The project will offer some 500 refugees over 16 years of age an opportunity to acquire practical skills in areas such as agriculture and nutrition, small business management, national resource management, metalwork and hairdressing. The various course subjects will run between 2 weeks and 6 months. Subsequently, the students will be referred to community-based organisations to assist them in finding employment. JRS staff will also be responsible for the monitoring of student performance during and after the course. If necessary, participants will also be given an opportunity to undertake other courses which may be of use to them in finding employment or establishing a small business.
"JRS and KED decided to establish this project to combat early school leaving. A recent study undertaken by KED revealed that quite a number of students were leaving school early out of disinterest, early marriage and a desire to earn a living. These are the individuals we are trying to whom reaching out", said Sr Rachel Verdeflor FI, Vocational Training and Non-Formal Education Coordinator, Mae Hong Son, JRS Thailand. "JRS has always advocated for the rights of refugees to receive an education and we cannot forget these vulnerable individuals. The project is one of the avenues for refugees to equip themselves with the necessary to lead a more dignified way of life", added Sr Verdeflor FI. The event was attended by local and central government officials, local NGOs, refugees, and JRS Thailand Director, Mr Tom Coughlin and KED Field Coordinator, Sr Gaye Lennon RSM.
JRS DISPATCHES is from the International
Office of Jesuit Refugee Service,
CP 6139, 00195 Roma Prati, Italy. Tel: +39-06 689.77.386; Fax: +39-06 688 06 418; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; JRS on-line: http://www.jrs.net; Publisher: Lluís Magriñà SJ; Editor: James Stapleton; Translation: Carles Casals (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Alessandra Pettrella (Italian).