Zambia + 5 more

IRIN-SA Weekly Round-up 2 covering the period 8-14 Jan 2000

News and Press Release
Originally published
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ZAMBIA: Thousands flee Angolan fighting

Fighting near the UNITA rebel stronghold of Jamba in southern Angola has caused thousands of people to seek refuge across the border in recent days, creating a new humanitarian burden at settlements along the banks of the swollen Zambezi River in southwest Zambia.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), said 7,707 people had crossed the border near Sinjembela, an outpost near the remote Sioma Ngwezi national park in southwest Zambia. In a statement LWF, the main operational partner of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the government, said they had crossed "in fast few days, coming mainly from Jamba".

"LWF is monitoring the situation and has immediately sent a lorry with food supplies to the area to meet the basic needs of the refugees," it said. "Unconfirmed reports state that new attacks on several other border towns north of Sinjembela can be expected soon. This might provoke a new major influx." LWF said it was setting up a corridor with feeding points between Sinjembela and the town of Sioma which lies on the banks of the Zambezi some 90 km to the north.

Last week, the Angolan government said it had captured Jamba, once a major headquarters of the UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi. In an offensive against UNITA which started in October, in the past month Angolan forces started driving UNITA rebels from their southern strongholds in fighting which spread along the borders with Namibia to the south and Zambia to the east, creating new refugee influxes into both neighbouring countries.

LWF said the refugee situation in Kalabo and Lukulu, two other river towns to the north of Senanga, remained critical. "The race against time to bring in enough food to cater for the coming five months flood season is still on," LWF said, citing concern that some ferries might soon be forced by the rainy season to stop operating. It said there were an estimated 4,500 Angolan refugees camped at a transit centre established by humanitarian agencies in Kalabo.

ZAMBIA-ANGOLA: Troops deploy on Zambian border

Fresh Angolan troops have allegedly deployed along the border with Zambia, and Lusaka has placed its forces on a state of alert, news sources said last Friday.

An AFP despatch, quoting military sources in Luanda, said the Angolan move was a bid to wipe out UNITA rebel positions in the eastern provinces of Moxico and Cuando Cubango. Angolan troops began moving into border villages in November, when Zambia placed its forces on a state of alert due to fears the Angolans could cross the frontier in pursuit of UNITA, news sources told IRIN.

Last year, Zambia rejected an Angolan request to use its territory as a springboard to attack UNITA. Luanda, however, secured agreements from Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the sources said.

UK/US: Travel advisories

Meanwhile, a British Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advisory on Thursday urged visitors to avoid Zambia's border regions with Angola and the DRC. It said British residents in those areas who consider their presence essential "should remain vigilant."

In a separate development, the United States has "strongly" urged its citizens to avoid all travel to the Okavango and Caprivi regions of northern Namibia due to the "uncertain security situation." A US embassy statement on Friday said the Angolan government's military campaign against UNITA, which has spilled over into Namibia, "may adversely effect the peace and security of the region." It added there were credible reports of Angolan forces shelling UNITA targets from within Namibia.

NAMIBIA: Government, press clash over reporting on border situation

Human rights activists and the press in Namibia this week clashed with the government over accusations that reporting on tensions along the border with Angola had dented the country's image at home and abroad. The dispute arises out of Namibia's decision last month to let the Angolan army use some Namibian frontier towns to launch attacks against UNITA rebels.

"People living outside Namibia who read the Namibian print media should be forgiven if they believe that our country is up in flames," said a statement released by Acting Foreign Minister Tuliameni Kalomoh. "In recent months and weeks, the government of Namibia has been subjected to a barrage of all manner of vitriolic propaganda by the print media."

Newspaper editors and diplomats in Namibia told IRIN they had repeatedly sought answers to questions on the border situation from the government in the past three weeks, but the authorities had preferred not to comment other than blame most attacks in Namibian territory, such as the murder last week of three French tourists, on UNITA.

Jeanette Minnie, regional director of the Namibia-based Media Institute of Southern Africa told IRIN: "The Namibian government is failing very seriously in informing the Namibian population on a regular basis of what is actually going on along its northern border. In these circumstances they should not be surprised if there is an element of speculation and sometimes an error. It is unfair to accuse the media of being propagandistic."

NAMIBIA: Government denies Namibians hired by Angolan army

Namibian Prime Minister Hage Geingob has denied reports by newspapers, opposition politicians and human rights activists that young Namibians were being recruited by the Angolan army to fight UNITA rebels in the border zone between the two countries.

The independent daily, 'The Namibian', quoted local community leaders it had interviewed as saying the Angolan army was hiring young Namibians in the Kavango border town of Rundu. The newspaper said the recruitment was undertaken apparently without the knowledge of Namibia's top leadership. Namibian border patrols have reportedly turned a blind eye to the recruitment drive. "The mercenaries were mostly hired from squatter settlements around Rundu - Kaisosi, Kehemu and Sauyemwa - with a promise of US $700 monthly wages, a much needed capital injection for people living on less than US $3 a day."

But Geingob told the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC): "I agree in an area where you have poverty, the temptation is great for people to be recruited for money. But I can tell you we have no evidence." Geingob also denied reports that the recruitment was condoned by his government, which agreed last month to let the Angolan army launch attacks on UNITA from Namibian soil.

ANGOLA: A grim humanitarian outlook by UNICEF

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is seeking US $21.7 million from the international donor community for Angola where renewed warfare has pushed up global malnutrition rates and caused what it called an "extreme" deterioration in food security.

Of 3.7 million affected by the 26-year civil war between government forces and the UNITA rebel movement, 1.7 million are displaced, the agency said in its appeal for the year 2000. It said 1 million of these displaced people were forced to flee their homes in 1999 alone, and that three quarters of them are women and children.

In a country which ranks third in the world in under-five mortality rates, UNICEF also cited "dangerously high" maternal mortality rates in Angola where it said children were the most at risk anywhere in the world. It also said residents of the country's besieged government-held cities were now as vulnerable as the tens of thousands who have sought refuge in them. With an estimated 7 million landmines around the country, Angola it said still had one of the highest concentrations of mines in the world.

"To date, it is estimated that 90,000 persons have either been killed or permanently maimed due to landmine accidents in Angola," the UNICEF report said. "Mined roads and footpaths impede repatriation of refugees and returnees, and mined farmland precludes agricultural production. Less than 4 percent of arable land is currently under production."

ANGOLA: Fowler reviews sanctions progress

The head of the UN Sanctions Committee on Angola held "encouraging" talks with government officials in Luanda on Monday as part of a review of sanctions against the rebel movement, UNITA.

Robert Fowler met Angolan Foreign Minister Joao de Miranda among other officials in talks one diplomatic source close to the visit described as "terrific". Fowler, Canada's ambassador to the UN, arrived in Angola on Saturday. His week-long visit provides an opportunity to assess sanctions policy in the light of far more detailed information now available to his team, and to consult with the government. Fowler is due to report to a UN Security Council session on Angola on 18 January.

"I do not think there is any doubt that the whole issue of sanctions against UNITA is much better understood today than it was a year or two ago," Fowler told state radio on Saturday. "There is a greater appreciation of the fact that the reputation of individuals and countries, which break sanctions, is going to suffer more now than has ever been the case in the past."

The effectiveness of military and trade sanctions imposed against UNITA is "not unrelated to their current inability to procure supplies," the diplomatic source said. However, he stressed that Angola's conflict cannot be resolved by military means alone and the objective of the embargo is to "get UNITA back to the negotiating table. There has to be a viable political settlement."

ZIMBABWE: Critical democracy test

Zimbabweans face two critical polls in the next few months: One a referendum on a new constitution, the other parliamentary elections, with both processes dogged by controversy.

"This is in fact the greatest test the country has faced. Something must come out of all this suffering, all this agitation, and how we handle this matter will determine our future for a long time to come," lawyer and government critic Welshman Ncube told IRIN.

The government last year launched a constitutional reform process culminating in a draft constitution. That document, attacked by opponents for its failure to accurately represent popular sentiment, is to be put to referendum either this month or early in February, with parliamentary elections due in March or by the first week of April.

Zimrights director Bidi Munyaradzi complained that people - particularly rural Zimbabweans - are being asked to participate in a referendum for the first time, but without adequate explanation of the constitutional debate. It is also unclear until after the referendum under which constitution the parliamentary elections are to be held, which has significant technical and administrative implications, Ncube said.

Although the voters roll is not critical to the referendum, in which people with valid identity cards would be able to participate, the accuracy of the list is vital for the parliamentary poll. According to a UN Electoral Assistance Mission to Zimbabwe which ended last month, the voters roll is "flawed", with 10-25 percent of the names on the list deceased and an estimated 2 million out of 5.6 registered voters having moved constituencies since the last election in 1995 without proper registration.

Meanwhile, the government has dismissed the UN mission's recommendations, saying their advice contained "nothing new." Zimbabwe media reports quoted Tobaiwa Mudede, the country's election supervisor as saying: "The team did not recommend anything to us but were told the situation and why we wanted to carry out the voter registration exercise."

ZIMBABWE-DRC: Mugabe wants greater action by West

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe said on Monday that Western governments have not done enough to resolve the conflict in the DRC.

Addressing a news conference in Harare after talks with DRC President Laurent-Desire Kabila, he called on Western powers to condemn the governments of Rwanda and Uganda backing DRC rebels. Mugabe said he would attend a 24 January meeting called by the UN Security Council to discuss international efforts to end the conflict.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Observer Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) said the condition of allied forces trapped by DRC rebels in the northern town of Ikela was unknown, with conflicting reports that a rescue mission was about to breakthrough.

"The whole thing, whether a siege or an offensive to rescue them, means the ceasefire is being abused around Ikela," MONUC spokesman Guy Pickett told IRIN.

ZIMBABWE: IMF chief says economy is in a "very dangerous state"

Outgoing head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Michel Camdessus, said the Zimbabwean economic situation is "very dangerous" and the government has to reduce its military spending.

Camdessus was speaking from Washington to journalists in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Nigeria via a 90 minute satellite link-up. During the session he said the IMF was willing to compromise with Zimbabwe over certain economic reforms, but the international community was growing increasingly impatient with the Zimbabwean government. "You have a very dangerous trend towards inflation, you have very dangerous trend to excessive public expenditure, and structural problems which prevent the country to go at the level you need it to go in making a difference in alleviating poverty," Camdessus said.

He also blamed the "impact of military spending" for Zimbabwe's inflation, which he said was the "most cynical way of taxing the poor."

ZIMBABWE: Newspaper reports troop reductions

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe plans to slash its troop numbers in the DRC for cost reasons, according to a report by the 'Financial Gazette' on Thursday. The newspaper quoted an unnamed senior official as saying the government aims to have half of its 11,000 troops in the DRC home by April.

SOUTHERN AFRICA: DRC summit meeting

Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders will hold a summit meeting on Sunday in the Mozambique capital, Maputo, to discuss the DRC conflict, officials told IRIN on Friday.

The summit, to be held behind closed doors, was called by Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano in his capacity as SADC chairman. Officials said Chissano had decided to call the meeting because regional leaders will be in Maputo at the weekend for his inauguration following his victory in last month's general elections. Diplomats said the leaders would discuss implementation of 10 July Lusaka ceasefire accord.

SWAZILAND: IRIN Focus on democratic reforms

A three-year review of Swaziland's constitution which has been extended at least until next year has been coming under increasing criticism by the kingdom's handful of growingly vocal pro-democracy activists.

In a country where political parties have been banned since 1973, they have criticised the review as too slow and lacking credibility because the majority of the 33 members of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) are members of royal family and the country's powerful network of traditional chiefs. Because it only considers submissions by individuals, rather than by political, labour or other interest groups, they say it will be unable to deliver a modern constitutional model. The tiny kingdom sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique gained its independence from Britain in 1968. It has been ruled ever since by a succession of monarchs or royal councils.

For the full text of the report visit:

SWAZILAND: IRIN Focus on press freedom constraints

The absence of a democratic culture in Swaziland for more than three decades has insulated its journalists, media owners and the general public from the ethos of critical appraisal of the royal family and the government, analysts told IRIN this week.

This erosion of press freedom and freedom of expression, they said, has created a general belief that the king and the queen mother, especially, can do no wrong and are therefore above reproach.

In a country where political parties have been banned since 1973, activists and journalists agree that the country's two daily newspapers, the independently-owned 'Times of Swaziland' and the royal family-owned 'Swazi Observer', have been cowed into self-censorship.

For the full text of the report visit:


As a benchmark of international solidarity there are few better examples than the billions of dollars spent and the years of work that went into minimising the impact of the Y2K bug. But for a far more lethal virus, the international community could only raise US $165 million in 1997 for AIDS prevention in the world's most affected countries.

For the African continent, where 70 percent of the world's total HIV/AIDS cases occur, the affordability of drugs that can cut mother-to-child transmission and sustain lives is a pressing concern, African representatives to the UN Security Council meeting on AIDS said this week.

But South Africa, with one of the fastest growing HIV/AIDS rates in the world, has been frustrated in an attempt to more cheaply source AIDS-therapy drugs by its own pharmaceutical industry, analysts told IRIN.

For the full text of the report visit:

Johannesburg, 14 January 2000, 12:30 gmt


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