UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
Border dispute brings Ethiopia and Eritrea to the brink of all-out war: An incipient border dispute flared up into a major armed clash between Ethiopia and Eritrea during the early part of May. The initial focus of friction between the two countries was an area between the Tekezze and Mereb/Gash rivers known as the "Yirga Triangle". According to various reports, following a minor and probably unplanned skirmish on May 6, the Eritrean army moved to forcefully occupy an area around the border village of Badme on May 12. Local Ethiopian militia and police units attempted to prevent the Eritrean advance and in the ensuing clash it was claimed five Ethiopians were killed, eight "hostages" taken and a hospital, school and a public building destroyed (later upped to 16 killed, 24 prisoners taken and seven schools destroyed).
The following day, the Ethiopian Council of Ministers met to consider situation on the border and later issued a statement demanding that the Eritrean government withdraw its army without preconditions. Claims emerged that Eritrean forces had penetrated "several dozen kilometers" inside Ethiopian territory, occupying the border town of Badme and parts of Sheraro district. The same day Ethiopian Airlines suspended all flights to Asmara and Assab, and two ships flying the Ethiopian flag were diverted from Assab to Djibouti.
On May 14, the Eritrean Cabinet of Ministers issued a statement accusing Ethiopia of "recurrent border incursions" and calling for a clear delineation of the disputed areas, demilitarisation of the border zone and negotiations to be guaranteed and conducted by a third party. The Eritrean ambassador to Ethiopia called the Badme clash a "sad incident" and told reporters in Addis Ababa that there were altogether some five or six disputed areas along the common border requiring arbitration.
Over the next week, amidst a "war of words" from both sides, a number of efforts were made by third parties to mediate in the dispute. President Hassan Gouled Aptidon of Djibouti was the first to meet with both Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and President Isaias Afeworki of Eritrea, soon followed by US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice and Paul Kigame of Rwanda. In the days that followed, despite intensive efforts to find an acceptable formula to resolve the dispute, tensions along the border steadily increased as both sides mobilised their armed forces and began a major military build-up in the Yirga Triangle as well as at several other locations along the border. On May 22, all direct telephone links to Asmara from Ethiopia were cut and the following day, National Day in Eritrea, the border crossing to the port of Assab was closed to all traffic, joining the northern crossings at Zelambessa and Mereb which were closed a few days earlier.
Even while rumours were emerging that a joint US-Rwandan initiative to broker a peace was making some headway, on May 31 another major clash took place in a disputed area around the village of Alitena, a few kilometers east of the border town of Zelambessa. The clash took place as Eritrean army units advanced south towards what Asmara claims to be the colonial border. On June 3, details of the joint American-Rwandese "facilitation effort" were made public for the first time. In a statement, James Rubin, spokesman for the US State Department, said that the "facilitation team" had found many areas of commonality between the two sides and that in the interest of peace and regional stability had presented an outline four-point plan to each party on May 30-31. The recommendations of the plan were summarised as follows:
1. Both parties should commit themselves to the following principles: resolving this and any other dispute by peaceful means; renouncing force as a means of imposing solutions; agreeing to undertake measures to reduce current tensions; and seeking the final disposition of their common border, on the basis of established colonial treaties and international law applicable to such treaties.
2. To reduce current tensions, and without prejudice to the territorial claims of either party a small observer mission should be deployed to Badme; Eritrean forces should re-deploy from Badme to positions held before May 6, 1998; the previous civilian administration should return; and there should be an investigation into the events of May 6, 1998.
3. To achieve lasting resolution of the underlying border dispute, both parties should agree to the swift and binding delimitation and demarcation of the Eritrea-Ethiopia border. Border delimitation should be determined on the basis of established colonial treaties and international law applicable to such treaties, and the delimitation and demarcation process should be completed by a qualified technical team as soon as possible. The demarcated border should be accepted and adhered to by both parties, and, upon completion of demarcation, the legitimate authorities assume jurisdiction over their respective sovereign territories.
4. Both parties should demilitarise the entire common border as soon as possible.
On June 5, it appeared for a while that a breakthrough was imminent. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi gave a press conference where he confirmed his government's acceptance of the peace plan although he also warned that while supporting the US-Rwandan facilitation effort, the Ethiopian armed forces had been instructed to take "all necessary steps" to counter any further Eritrean aggression.
The following day, however, all hopes for a last minute settlement were dashed when both Asmara and Mekele, capital of the Tigray administrative region, came under aerial attack shortly after mid-day, signaling a new and more serious escalation of the crisis. While damage in Asmara was light with few reported injuries, an evening attack on Mekele by an Eritrean plane led to the deaths of more than 40 civilians, including a number of children. Ethiopia says it attacked in retaliation for a morning raid by the Eritrean Air Force, a claim denied by Asmara who say Ethiopian MIGs struck first.
After representations by the Italian, British, Dutch and US embassies in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian government agreed to an informal 13-hour cessation of aerial attacks on Asmara from 5 p.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. on Sunday June 7 in order that the evacuation of foreigners wishing to leave could be completed. A German military transport arrived shortly after at Asmara to evacuate 210 Europeans, and was soon followed by British, American, Italian, French and UN chartered aircraft. By morning the following day, around 1,500 people had been successfully evacuated by air. A Dutch frigate, on stand-by in the Red Sea, later docked at Massawa to evacuate a further 133 foreigners, including nationals from Yemen, Germany, Sweden, Russia, Sri Lanka, Britain and the United States.
Initially, the number of civilians affected by the fighting appeared limited and well within the capacity of the local authorities to manage. However, following a further flare-up of fighting around Zelambessa on June 9 and a further heightening of tension throughout the border area, reports emerged from Ethiopia indicating a sharp increase in the number of people fleeing the border area as well as from towns thought to be vulnerable to attack from the air.
In addition to people directly displaced by the fighting, according to a government statement released in Addis Ababa around 3,000 Ethiopians previously living and working in Eritrea have been expelled from the country, the majority crossing back into Ethiopia across the Mereb river while several hundred port workers were reportedly forced to leave Assab during the last days of May. On June 10, the Ethiopian Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission issued an appeal for the international community to provide assistance to the displaced. According to the appeal, in addition to the people expelled from Eritrea, over 126,000 people have been displaced by fighting and are in need of emergency assistance.
The week beginning June 8 saw further attempts by the Ethiopian army to recapture the border town of Zelambessa, renewed fighting around Badme and the first serious confrontation at the border crossing of Burie, some 80 kilometers from the Red Sea port of Assab. The week culminated on Thursday June 11 with an Eritrean air attack on Adigrat, a large town some 35 kilometers from the border. Witnesses say two helicopters and a MIG jet fighter targeted a bus station, pharmaceutical factory and a warehouse containing relief food supplies. 4 people are reported killed and around 40 injured in the attack. Eritrea claims it attacked military targets in Adigrat which, it says, is being used as a rear base for Ethiopian military operations on the border at Zelambessa
The following days see a renewed effort by the US "facilitators" and others, including Rwandan Vice President Paul Kigame and Italian Under-Secretary of State for African Affairs, Rino Serri, to achieve progress in securing an end to the escalating hostilities. Early on June 15, a White House spokesman announced that Ethiopia and Eritrea had agreed to halt air strikes along their disputed border. The statement followed telephone calls to leaders of both countries by President Clinton who was aboard Airforce One en route from Los Angeles to Washington. The statement indicated the moratorium would continue indefinitely, unless both parties "conclude that any prospect for a peace process has come to an end," and provide in advance of any strike formal notice to the U.S. Government. Ethiopia later publicly announced its support for the moratorium but a spokesperson said that no agreement had been reached to halt fighting on the ground. "We have agreed to an air cease-fire, but if our sovereignty is put under threat we will defend it," a government communiqué said. Eritrea welcomed the agreement as a "positive first step". Independent observers see the agreement as a limited, but nonetheless, important step towards de-escalating the conflict.
Egal's vision of the Horn: Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, president of self-declared "Somaliland", sees the presence of a French military force in the Horn of Africa region as "an unofficial guardian of regional stability". In a statement, transmitted to the Indian Ocean Newsletter on 21 May, Egal implicitly referred to Djibouti and added that if reports were confirmed that "the hospitality of the host of these forces is eroding", he was ready to "offer the French government alternative facilities and the unreserved hospitality of the Republic of Somaliland". - In an editorial note, the Indian Ocean Newsletter assumes that Egal's proposal probably refers to an interview given recently to the Ethiopian pro-government magazine "Efoyta" by Ismail Omar Gelleh, the cabinet chief of Djibouti head of state Hassan Gouled Aptidon. Gelleh indicated that Djibouti must not be "a prisoner of its colonial history" and suggested a strategic alliance with Ethiopia and the dismantling of any foreign military bases which might pose a danger for the security of the region. (Indian Ocean Newsletter, May 23)
Ethiopia and Djibouti strengthening ties: The eighth Ethiopian-Djiboutian border committee conference ended on 5 June in Dire Dawa with passing resolutions "which will be instrumental in further strengthening the relations of the two countries", as the Ethiopian Herald reported. The implementation of various agreements to facilitate free cross border movement of pastoralist people and goods "has so far been successful". The conference called also for a future regular exchange of information between border officials of the two countries. (The Ethiopian Herald, June 6)
Troops on alert: According to a BBC report, Djibouti has been mobilising troops along its borders with Ethiopia and Eritrea. Given the relative proximity of fighting, the mobilisation began reportedly in early June as a precautionary measure . A correspondent said people in Djibouti were anxious about a possible spillover of the conflict, remembering that in 1991 the overthrow of the former Ethiopian ruler, Mengistu Haile Mariam, led to civil war in Djibouti. (The Monitor, June 13-14)
Djibouti port busy with Ethiopian goods and oil: The cessation of Ethiopian access to Eritrean ports due to the border dispute has led to a significant increase in goods transiting through the port of Djibouti. From May 12, the Ethiopian government effectively banned the passage of all Ethiopian exports and imports through the Eritrean port of Assab. Djibouti's permanent secretary for information has said that since this announcement the port of Djibouti has been exceptionally busy with the task of absorbing the unexpected volume of Ethiopian goods. The port usually handles no more than 10 per cent of Ethiopian transit traffic, but this time the challenge is to handle the country's entire sea import and export requirements. Meanwhile, Djibouti radio said that a backlog of lorries were queued up in the parking area of the nearby fishing port waiting to load fuel, but local oil companies were unable to meet the surging demand. The Djibouti branches of oil majors Mobil, Shell and Total, would have to supply 120 trucks a day each to keep up, the radio report said. Earlier this year, Ethiopia signed an agreement with the three companies to lease additional storage capacity in the port area, which would make possible the notional delivery of about 1.6 million tons a year. Ethiopia's total demand for oil products is presently around 1.2 million tons a year. Before the border dispute flared up, Ethiopia was transiting around 400,000 tons of oil per year through Djibouti, about 30 per cent of total oil traffic. The necessary throughput therefore will need to be increased significantly if all the country's needs are to be met through this one port. (The Monitor, May 19-21 and 26; The Reporter, May 20; Addis Tribune, May 22)
Evacuation via Djibouti: The conflict between the two western neighbors led temporarily also to increased passenger traffic in the former French colony. Hundreds of foreigners were evacuated from Asmara through Djibouti. On 8 June, 340 evacuees, including 227 Italians, traveled on a special Alitalia flight from Djibouti to Rome. (AFP, June 8)
Security forces arrest ex-foreign minister: Djibouti' s security services have arrested and later released former Foreign Minister and Secretary General of the ruling People's Rally for Progress (RPP) Moumin Bahdon Farah, as well as two journalists in charge of the opposition weekly Le Populaire founded by Farah and his political allies. Farah is suspected of financing an armed rebel movement active in the south of the country, the southern command of the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD). (AFP, May 7)
Ethiopian refugees maltreated in Djibouti: According to news reports, Ethiopian refugees in Djibouti say that they are being maltreated by the local police. The Solidarity Committee for Ethiopian Political Prisoners (SCEPP) is said to have lodged a complaint with UNHCR and requested the UN agency to look into complaints of religious persecution and women being raped. Also, Djibouti police are said to carry out sporadic raids on refugee shelters and take away money and other belongings.(The Indian Ocean Newsletter, May 30)
Prisoners on hunger strike: Forty detainees, believed to be imprisoned for political reasons in Djibouti's Gaboda prison, started a hunger strike on 27 May aiming at improving the detention conditions and healthcare for the injured and sick. Later on, some 200 other detainees joined in the hunger strike. One of them died on 31 May, suspectedly of a heart attack, according to government sources. As reported by the Panafrican News Agency, living conditions in the prison are appalling with at times up to ten individuals struggling with suffocating heat in an area of three square meters. (The Reporter, June 3; Press Digest, June 11)
Eritrean opposition in exile raises its voice: The Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), a mainly Muslim political organisation strongly opposed to the Asmara government, claims that since 1993 at least 300 Eritreans disappeared unaccounted for. The statement, accompanied by comments on the "undemocratic and repressive" character of the Eritrean government, was made by two high level ELF leaders exiled in Europe. (Press Digest May 14 - quoting Mebruk, May 7)
Starved to death? Some 160 people are said to have died of hunger and many more displaced from their homes as a result of drought in Eritrea. This was reported by Abyotawi Demokrasi, a private Ethiopian newspaper, which in turn quoted a statement by Eritrea's Islamic Jihad movement. Reportedly, the drought hit areas in Eritrea include Wabelle, Wenebetit, Tigra, Zaya, Merenni and Mendefera. Local requests for assistance were apparently not met by positive responses from the Government. On the contrary, the people are said to have been asked by the government to contribute money for road constructions. (Press Digest, June 11)
Persistent problems with Sudan: Eritrean Radio reportedly claimed that Sudanese government forces had launched an attack with heavy artillery on the Eritrean town of Girmayka near the border with Sudan. According to the radio, the Sudanese government attacked some time ago the same area by air. (The Reporter, June 10)
Norwegian companies to determine hydroelectric potential: On May 4 the Ministry of Water Resources and two Norwegian companies signed an agreement to undertake feasibility studies for six months on three rivers - Genale, Baro and Gebba - with potential for hydroelectric power generation. The ministry has already undertaken similar studies on the Tekeze, Gojeb and Tis Abay rivers. These three alone have the potential to generate 523 megawatts of hydroelectric power. (The Ethiopian Herald, May 7)
Cellular telephones coming soon: The Ethiopian Communication Corporation announced that it would begin rendering cellular mobile telephone services in and around Addis Ababa before the end of the year. Registration of interested subscribers started on June 1. The corporation said it is making every endeavour to introduce state of the art communication technology for the service and has recently signed a contract for the purchase of GSM digital cellular mobile telephone with the Swedish company, Ericsson. (The Ethiopian Herald, May 10)
President Negasso urges investors to spur economic development: At the opening of a three-day investment promotion symposium organized by Oromia State Council, President Negasso stressed the need to promote the involvement of investors in economic development, "...as development is the top priority of the present government...". According to President of the Oromia State, Kuma Demeksa, the Oromia State Council has been taking a series of measures to overcome some of the legal impediments in the acquisition of land, curtailing bureaucratic procedures as well as expanding basic infrastructures to boost investment. (The Ethiopian Herald, May 9; The Monitor, May 12)
US self-help fund supports local projects: The United States Embassy in Addis Ababa has awarded over US $125,000 to nine community projects and two other organizations in the country from the ambassador's Self-Help and Human Rights funds. The projects include the Akesta Intermediate Secondary school in South Welo, the Kola Diba and Tilahun Gizaw senior secondary schools in North Gondar and Tigray, respectively, in addition to women's groups in the Somali State and Bahir Dar, and the Gondar Region Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Association. The Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) and the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) were each given grants from the Human Rights fund. CETU will use the money to conduct various democracy, civil education and human rights seminars and FAWE for a Gender and Development Girls mentoring workshop to be held in the capital. (The Ethiopian Herald, May 9)
Conference on human rights and ombudsman: On May 18 a five-day international conference on the future human rights commission and office of the ombudsman in Ethiopia was opened at the UN Conference Centre in Addis Ababa. The conference was attended by human rights experts and academics from around the world as well as by Ethiopian government officials, human rights activists, and representatives of civil society. Drawing on experience gained in other countries, among the principles agreed were: the two institutions should be independent from the government; have budgetary autonomy; appointees to the institutions should be representatives of the various sectors; legal professionals must have a record of specialist training; the activities performed must be clearly stated by law. But the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) said in a statement that if the constitution, with all its human rights provision, fails to ensure respect for human rights, it is difficult to believe that the establishment of a human rights commission and an ombudsman will be more effective. Meanwhile, in an open letter, the co-ordinator of Amnesty International, Hanni Bienert, complained that no international human rights organizations were invited to the conference although the meeting was financed mainly through Western contributions. (The Ethiopian Herald, May 9; The Reporter, May 20; Press Digest May 21 and 28)
84th Council of Ministers: In its 84th ordinary session, which opened May 8, the Ethiopian Council of Ministers discussed and made amendments to the proposed new investment code. The draft bill and the amended regulations will open sectors such as telecommunications, hydroelectric power generation as well as defense industries to both local and foreign investors. The draft bill would also allow native Ethiopians naturalized in a foreign country to be treated equally as local investors. The amended investment code will be directed to the House of Peoples' Representatives for final approval. (The Ethiopian Herald, May 9)
Rounded up in Gambella: On May 6 the Administration for Refugees/Returnees Affairs (ARRA) conducted a rounding up of illegal settlers in an area of Gambella known as "New Land". Some 2,500 people who were picked up from this community of 5,000 were taken to Fugnido refugee camp, but those who were found to be Ethiopian nationals were later released. A local Member of Parliament, Mark Chol, said one week later that security forces had arrested more than 600 Ethiopians from Gambella region along with Sudanese refugees. He presented a petition to the House of Peoples' Representatives, the House of Federation, and the Regional Affairs Division in the Prime Minister's Office. In the petition he says that the conflicts between the Nuer and Anuak tribes in the Gambella region should be resolved immediately. Other sources claim that the rounding up was conducted to counter the infiltration of members of the Southern Sudanese Independence Movement (SSIM) into Ethiopia. The ethnic base of the SSIM is the Nuer tribe, and hence the rounding up of both Sudanese and Ethiopian Nuers. The SSIM, led by Riak Machar, had broken away from the SPLA and had later joined the Sudanese government, some scholars say that SSIM is being used by the Sudanese government as a "front-line combatant" against the SPLA. (The Reporter, May 20)
Irrigable rivers in Amhara not yet fully tapped: The Amhara State Sustainable Agricultural Development and Environmental Rehabilitation Commission said irrigable rivers in the state have not yet been fully tapped. The commission said the Blue Nile, the Tekeze and the Awash Rivers along with their tributaries can develop half a million hectares of land. However, it said only 74,000 hectares of land has so far been used for irrigation farming. Preliminary surveys have been conducted on 179 sites that could be developed through irrigation, 14 irrigation schemes that have the capacity to develop 3,456 hectares of land. The construction of six dams and six other irrigation schemes is under way in the state. (The Ethiopian Herald, May 15)
Government admits the existence of armed opposition forces: The Ethiopian government has for the first time admitted that forces opposed to the constitution have been clashing with government troops in the Amhara, Benishangul and Gambella regions. The Defense Minister in a speech to parliament on May 15 said that the opposition forces were being assisted by the Sudanese government but that their activities had been contained by government troops. The two armed opposition groups in question are the Ethiopian United Front and Ethiopian Patriotic Democratic Movement. (Press Digest, May 21)
World Bank approves credit for Ethiopia: The World Bank has approved a US $100 million credit for Ethiopian's education sector development programme. According to a news release issued by the Bank, the credit will support the first five years of the government's 20-year plan to overhaul the country's education system. The programme covers education from kindergarten to higher education and includes non-formal and special needs education. The aim is to raise the share of primary school-age children from 30 per cent to 50 per cent during the five-year programme, increasing public expenditure on education from 3.8 per cent of GDP to 4.6 per cent and facilitating private sector and community financing of education. (Press Digest, June 4)
More journalists arrested: In a recent statement, Reporteurs Sans Frontieres, an independent organisation working to defend press freedom, reported that four more private press journalists had been arrested in Ethiopia, bringing the total number in prison to twenty-one. The report says "Ethiopia holds in this field not only the record for Africa, but for the whole world". RSF condemned the arrests and the amount of bail demanded by court. It also protested against the continued and unexplained detention for several months of other journalists. Meanwhile, since the release of the report two of the journalists have been released, while the deputy editor of the Amharic weekly Maebel was said to have been arrested. (The Reporter, May 27)
Polio campaign a great success: The Ministry of Health announced that the National Immunization Days (NIDs) for Polio, observed for the first time in the history of the country with the help of Rotary International, USAID, CDC-Atlanta, WHO and UNICEF, had shown a great success. The campaign had been conducted in two rounds during November and December 1997, during which a total number of 8.5 million children aged under five received vaccination coverage in seven days, nearly 100 per cent of the target population. In addition, some 3.5 million children received Vitamin A supplements. A further two rounds will be conducted this coming November and December. (The Ethiopian Herald, May 9; AFP, May 8)
World Bank gives Kenya US $65 million: Kenya is to receive about US $65 million from the World Bank, for the rehabilitation of infrastructure and social services destroyed by the 1997 El-Niño rains. A minister said that US $40 million would go to rural roads, bridges, health services, rural water and sanitation. The districts to benefit from the fund were in the north eastern and coast provinces. Meanwhile, at another function, the World Bank country director said future assistance to Kenya would depend on progress in the implementation of the economic recovery plans. A US $640 million project aid from the bank had not been disbursed due to poor and late implementation of the work. He also attributed the slow economic growth to Kenya's poor record of implementing donor-funded projects and the large number of pending works. He said high interest rates charged on the domestic debt were a disincentive for private investment. (Press Digest, May 21)
Former Rwandan minister murdered: Former Rwandan Interior Minister Seth Sendashonga was shot in his car in Nairobi on May 17. Kenyan police said that the murder was a political assassination as nothing was stolen from his car. Sendashonga, described as a moderate Hutu, served in the new Rwandan government after the RPF victory in 1994. One year later he was sacked after complaining about Hutu detentions. He fled to Kenya where he joined the opposition party Forces de Résistance pour la Démocratie (FRD). A first assassination attempt on him led to a break in relations between Rwanda and Kenya. The Brussels-based Centre de Lutte contre l'impunité et l'injustice au Rwanda, blamed the attack on the Rwandan External Security Office (ESO). The Rwandan Foreign Ministry denied any involvement. But the Hirondelle news agency in Arusha reported that Sendashonga was due to testify before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). (IRIN, May 18)
Lake Victoria's bursting banks: The Daily Nation reported that Lake Victoria has burst its banks for the first time in 36 years, leaving hundreds of people homeless. The overflowing of the lake, caused by abnormal rainfall in western Kenya, has also destroyed hundreds of hectares of crops in Nyanza province. (IRIN, May 18)
Kenya reforms judiciary: On May 8, Kenya's attorney general, Amos Wako, named a high powered 19-member committee to reform the judiciary, his office and the prosecution systems, the newspaper Daily Nation reported. A retired judge of the former East African Court of Appeal, Benna Lutta, will chair the committee. Other members are judges of the High Court of Kenya, the Court of Appeal and magistrates. The body will review the administration of justice, including the structure and administrative arrangements of the judiciary, court management of the judiciary, court management systems and the infrastructure and adequacy of the support system. Other areas will include a review of the Kenya Law Reform Commission, the Kenya School of Law, the general legal education system, the legal information and general registration system of all legal documents. The team is required to submit its final report in two years. Kenya's legal system has not undergone any reform since independence in 1963. (Press Digest, May 14)
Hanns Seidel-Stiftung Foundation decreases assistance: The Deputy General Manager, Rainer Gepperth, of the Hanns Seidel-Stiftung Foundation said that the political instability and lack of transparency in the management of donor funds has contributed to a two per cent reduction of German Non-Governmental Organization activities in Africa. At the 10 years commemoration day in Nairobi he said that the foundation would, despite that reduction, continue to support activities of the public and private sector in Kenya. But the main problem was to avoid corruption. A team of auditors from the economic co-operation department of the foundation would make regular visits to the various branches in the region to ensure that there is accountable utilization of funds. (Press Digest, May 14)
Ali Mahdi extends his leadership: Faction leader Ali Mahdi Mohamed, who controls north Moqdishu, has extended his leadership of the Abgal Somali Salvation Alliance (SSA) by six months to September, when a new poll will be held. But three deputies of his faction claim that Mahdi's mandate is now over and he is now only serving in an individual capacity. The three, who also enjoy considerable support among the Abgal clan, are seen as preparing to mount a serious challenge to Ali Mahdi's leadership of the SSA. (AFP, May 8)
Expatriates return to Kismayo as U.N. appeals for peace: On May 6, six international aid workers were evacuated from the southern port of Kismayo as fighting escalated between rival Majerten and Marehan militias. The expatriates were working in Kismayo hospital which has played a major role in treating wounded since the fighting erupted in mid-April. Later, warlord Mohamed Said Hirsi "Morgan", who controls the area, appealed for the return of the aid workers, all belonging to the Belgian wing of the medical charity, Medecines sans Frontieres, saying the fighting had ceased and there was no need for the agencies to panic. Six international workers did return on May 22 to Kismayo. The United Nations on May 25 reiterated its concern over the continuing violence in Kismayo and appealed to clan militias there to cease hostilities. The UN Resident and Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Somalia, Dominik Langenbacher also appealed to faction leaders in Moqdishu to establish full security in the city to enable aid workers to resume their work. Langenbacher said "the UN is ready to help in any way it can, but we do not feel the situation is ready for us to go back yet." (AFP, May 6- 23 and 25-26)
Somaliland anniversary: Radio Hargeisa said on May 19 that President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal had criticised the world for ignoring the Somaliland Republic's declaration of independence from Somalia. In a speech commemorating the seventh anniversary of Somaliland's secession in 1991, Egal pledged that his country had no intention of abandoning its declared independence, despite delayed recognition by the international community. Somaliland has remained relatively peaceful since 1996 after Egal decided to negotiate with his Issak clan opponents, who predominate in Somaliland. Key among those agitating for a return of the breakaway republic to Somalia is Abdurahman Ahmed Ali "Tur", the first president of the self-declared republic from 1991 until he was voted out. He has since joined the south Moqdishu warlord Hussein Mohamed Aided as his Vice-Resident. (AFP, May 19)
In Southern Somalia rats threaten harvest: An explosive multiplication of rats is seriously threatening the upcoming harvest in large parts of southern Somalia. FAO-Somalia warned on May 15 that recent field surveys indicate excessive numbers of rats in the Middle and Lower Shabelle, and Middle Juba regions, especially areas close to the rivers. FAO reported that rats have already damaged young maize plants, immature ears of maize and some vegetables. FAO warned if control measures are not taken the upcoming Gu season harvest will be seriously threatened. FAO said it has prepared a proposal outlining the necessary interventions. (UNCT Somalia Monitor, May 19)
Islamic party chairman calls for rebellion: A Somali fundamentalist cleric Sheikh Ahmed Qasim, the Chairman of Hisbul Islam (Islamic Party) said that factions in war-torn Somalia had failed to bring peace to the Horn of Africa nation and should, therefore, be replaced by an alternative Islamic force and called for a massive Islamic uprising against Somalia`s warring factions. Addressing journalists, Qasim said the adaptation of tougher Islamic Sharia law was the only solution to overcome the Somali crisis. The declaration by Qasim was seen as a stand supported by other Moslem extremists as a possible alternative, especially after the recent breakdown of the Somali peace process aimed at establishing a transitional government. (AFP, May 26)
Top Malaysian businessman murdered: Prominent Malaysian businessman, Colonel Rashid Musa has been gunned down and killed during a botched kidnap attempt in south Moqdishu. The colonel was a partner in the Somali Telecommunication Service (STS), a joint venture between Malaysians and Somali businessmen. Musa first came to Somalia with the Malaysian military contingent deployed as part of UNOSOM in 1994-95. North Moqdishu warlord Ali Mahdi Mohamed confirmed the incident, sending a message of condolence to the government of Malaysia. Apart from this telecommunications venture, the Somali-Malaysian bank opened in Moqdishu in April last year and there has been talk of Malaysian technicians assisting in the re-opening of the port. Malaysian business interests are often closely linked with members of Hussein Aideed's faction. (IRIN, June 2; AFP, June 2; ION, June 6)
Factions battle for control of Baidoa: On June 4 fighting flared-up again between the Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA) and forces loyal to Hussein Mohamed Aideed. RRA spokesman Qalinle said that Aideed had dispatched reinforcements to Baidoa from the former military base at Ballidogle and the fighting had escalated. Some 26 people were killed and 56 others wounded including civilians. A RRA spokesman in Nairobi accused ethnic Oromos of neighbouring Ethiopia of supporting Aideed to keep Baidoa and the nearby district of Xudur under his control. Within days it was reported that Aideed had succeeded in recapturing Baidoa. Meanwhile, the Somali warlord Osman Hassan Ali "Ato" in a broadcast on his Radio Pacification declared the peace accord signed last December in Cairo "dead" and called for an alternative peace process to save Somalia. "A new meeting would better shape the peace process" he said. Ato also accused the two warlords Ali Mahdi Mohamed and Hussien Mohamed Aideed of proclaiming themselves co-chairman of the National Co-ordination Committee (NCC), and of overseeing preparations for the on-off-on-again National Reconciliation Conference without his knowledge or participation. (AFP, June 4; ION, June 13)
A Sudanese deputy defects to opposition: A Sudanese national assembly member from the east has defected to an alliance of southern rebels and the northern opposition and called for more armed action to oust the regime. The deputy, Qamer Hassan al-Tahir, made a statement on the radio of the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) based in Eritrea and said he had joined the military wing of the opposition Umma party. Tahir, the deputy for Galabat constituency in the parliament set up by the junta disappeared several months ago. Tahir's location is still unknown. (AFP, May 4)
Sudanese opposition lawyers arrested: On May 7, a group of Sudanese opposition lawyers announced the arrest by security forces of two of their colleagues and demanded their immediate release. Head of the group, Ghazi Suleiman, said that his organization, National Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (NARD), which is one of the main internal opposition groups would stage a protest march to the presidential palace and go on strike if the lawyers were not released. The outspoken opponent of Sudan's Islamic military junta also said that 83 other opposition figures have been detained in the days since the beginning of a referendum on a draft constitution in Sudan. (AFP, May 7)
Egypt offers relief for Bahr el-Ghazal province: The Egyptian Foreign Minister said on May 7, that Egypt is determined to provide famine relief to Bahr el-Ghazal and is calling on the warring parties to allow the delivery of supplies. AFP was told, "Egypt urges all sides to do everything they can to allow the delivery of aid". Several aid agencies and charities warned of an impending catastrophe that could strike more than 300,000 people. But Khartoum denied on May 6 that there was a famine in the province saying that only 18,500 people were in need of relief. (AFP, May 7)
Khartoum accuses SPLA of massacres: Southern Sudanese rebels have massacred 23 members of the Missairiyah tribe and killed 3,000 livestock in West Kordofan near the border with Chad, the daily Al Rai al Akher reported on May 5. Reportedly, another Arab tribe, the Rizaiqat, in South Darfur State has been attacked. Also in the west, fighting has left 42 people dead and 5,000 heads of cattle slain. A government army delegation said security measures were being taken in the region but also blamed General Kerubino Kyanyen, a recent defector from government ranks. The SPLA denied massacring these Arab tribes including the Dinka of central Sudan. The SPLA claimed to have killed in a battle in the southern Blue Nile province 300 soldiers and wounded more than 500. The Khartoum government admits that 100 troops have been killed in a two days battle with the SPLA. The official Al Anbaa daily reported on June 4 that a contingent of popular defense militiamen of unspecified strength left Khartoum for the Blue Nile region to fight the SPLA. (AFP, May 5-10 and June 4)
Military co-operation with Syria: During a visit to Damascus by Sudanese Defense Minister Ibrahim Seliman, a military co-operation accord has been concluded on May 5 with Syrian counterpart Mustafa Tiass, the official SANA news agency reported. (AFP, May 5)
Relief operation: The Sudanese government authorized the UN on May 3 to use three additional Hercules C-130 transport planes, bringing the total to five aircraft. On May 9, the government announced that it would allow aid agencies access to the Central Nuba Mountains region. But in the second week of May, the government troops undertook a military offensive in Bahr el-Ghazal, including attacks on at least six relief centers. Subsequently relief operations in those areas had been halted. The SPLA said that the offensive was a retaliation for recent rebel advances in Upper Nile and Blue Nile provinces during which several government garrisons were captured. On May 19, the United Nations suspended operations to send food to Sudan' s famine-wrecked Nuba region, working out logistics for an airlift. On May 21 WFP said the first UN relief food barge convoy arrived in Juba. The convoy of seven barges, carrying a total of 1,005 tons of cereals and pulses, distributed in 32 villages. On June 2 WFP announced that six expatriate staff members were evacuated from south Sudan due to fighting between rebels and government forces. On the other hand, WFP announced that it was urgently sending 225 tons of food to 8,500 Sudanese refugees and 4,000 Chadians in eastern Chad. (IRIN, MAY 7 and 25; AFP, May 19 and June 2; The Monitor, May 21; WFP Report No. 22)
Constitutional referendum: On May 9, voters in Khartoum state began voting in a referendum on the draft constitution. The exercise was due to last 10 days in Khartoum State. According to the general elections commission, 1.5 million people are eligible to vote in the 16 northern states and 10 southern states, more than 10 per cent of the country's total electorate of 10 million. The referendum process in the country's other states began May 1 and finished May 20. Rebels in the mainly Christian and animist south have called for a boycott of the referendum. For the first time, Sudanese living abroad - estimated to number around three million - are eligible to vote. (AFP, May 10, June 1)
Rebels say referendum for south must include Nuba: The SPLA governor of Nuba Mountains under rebel control, Yusif Kuwa, said that a referendum on political self-determination in south Sudan must include the people of Nuba Mountains. Kuwa said the SPLA prefers a united but decentralized Sudan instead of outright secession by the south. The movement would, however, respect such an outcome of the referendum if it were held. But the key matter of who will vote remains unresolved, since people in areas like the Nuba Mountains, where south meets north, are far from homogeneous with Moslems live near animists and Christians. Also the question of which territories constitute southern Sudan is contentious. The government has defined southern Sudan as the states of Bahr el-Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile, but the SPLA extended that to include Abyei, southern Kordofan, where the Nuba Mountains are situated, and southern Blue Nile regions. (AFP, May 18)
NDA hold meeting in Cairo: Sudan's opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) held an unprecedented meeting in Cairo on May 27. For the NDA, which groups Sudan's northern opposition and the southern rebel Sudan People' s Liberation Army (SPLA), it was the first meeting to take place outside of Asmara. In Khartoum, a member of the government decision-making national congress, Suleiman al-Awad, welcomed the planned meeting in statements published by the newspaper Al-Rai Al-Aam. The transfer of the meeting from Asmara to Cairo "alleviates Eritrean pressures on the opposition and bolsters Egyptian efforts for reconciliation between the Sudanese government and its opponents". Egypt's consent to host the NDA conference "indicates Cairo's support to the opposition alliance for achieving the aspirations of the Sudanese people". Although the main topic at a round talks was to examine ways of launching an "intifada" against the Khartoum government. (AFP, May 25; IRIN May 22)
Sudan to normalize ties with Kuwait: Sudan's Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said that Khartoum wants to normalize ties with Kuwait. During a visit with the emir, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Ismail said "we must turn the page on the period of animosity". Kuwait froze ties during the 1991 Gulf War accusing Sudan of having supported Iraq's 1990 invasion to Kuwait. Kuwait has an embassy in Sudan, headed by a charge d'affaires, but Khartoum does not have a mission in Kuwait. (AFP, May 25)
Northern Sudan faces food shortage: Ali Shammar, Deputy Governor of the western state of Darfor, expressed in a press statement that serious food shortages may develop in his state. He called on the national government to pay attention to the worsening food conditions. Another member of the parliament cautioned against anticipated acute food shortages in some parts of the state of Kassala, especially New Halfa province which is facing a crises due to low harvest yields this season. On the other hand, a Sudanese parliamentarian accused the authorities of aggravating the situation by the high level of taxes imposed on farmers, often paid as payment-in-kind. (Press Digest, May 28)
Garang seeks new alliance with Machar and Arab tribes: The leader of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation army, John Garang, during a meeting in the southeastern Bahr al-Jabal region with Kuanyen Kerubino, who switched sides back from the government in January, called on his old comrade-in-arms Riak Machar to re-think his alliance with the government and return to rebel ranks. Kerubino and Machar were among seven heads of dissident SPLA factions who signed an accord with Khartoum last year. Machar is currently President of the Co-ordination Council for Southern Sudan established to manage affairs in the region. Garang has also called for a "reconciliation conference" between leaders of the Arab tribes and their mainly Christian and animist non-Arab neighbors of Central Sudan. SPLA spokesman Yasser Arman said in a statement that "the SPLA is in contact with the tribal chiefs in the states of Southern Darfur, Northern Bahr al-Ghazal, Southern Kordofan and Upper Nile to hold this conference". The SPLA is also co-ordinating its efforts with the National Democratic Alliance, an opposition group, which includes both the SPLA and northern opposition parties. (AFP, May 29 and June 8)
Tribes recover livestock: More than 10,000 horsemen of Sudan's Rizaiqat tribe supported by pro-governmental armed forces have swept through southern rebel camps of Niyam Lale and Merial Bai in northern Bahr al-Ghazal province. The hoard destroyed the rebel camps, seizing back 17,000 head of cattle and 20,000 head of goats as well as a large quantity of arms. The attack was in reprisal for rebel attacks and rustling last month. (AFP, May 29)
Peace is priority not aid: Sudanese parliament speaker Hassan al-Turabi said it was more important to find an end to the country's civil war than to carry out relief operations in the famine-hit south. Turabi is considered the religious power behind Sudan's ruling junta. He added that most of the relief funds are going on administrative costs, and would be better spent on infrastructure projects such as road building, communications, health and development projects. On the other hand, Sudanese junior foreign minister Gebriel Rorec told US Congressman Tony Hall who was visiting southern Sudan area that a cease-fire was needed if the government and SPLA were to reach a "peaceful political solution" to the war. He wanted Washington and other world powers countries to stop the rebel war. (AFP, May 30-31)
Egypt to establish free trade zone on border: Egypt and Sudan are to set up free trade zones on either side of their common border. Sudan is to set up a free zone for Egyptians imports in al-Abediyya district, about 350 km north of Khartoum. Egypt has chosen its southern town of Aswan for a similar free trade zone for Sudanese imports. The Customs Director for al-Abediyya district said that a team of surveyors and geologists were to conduct a study on construction of a highway linking al-Abediyya with Shalatin, at the northern, Egyptian, end of the Halaib Triangle district disputed by the two countries. Cross-border trade has flourished since the recent improvement in relations between the two countries. (AFP, May 30)
Sudanese government to recruit 650,000 for military: The Sudanese Government has a plan to recruit 650,000 civilians into the military by the end of the year 2000, with 250,000 conscripted during 1998. National Military Service Co-ordinator Usama Abdallah said that students who have just finished high school would undergo military training. This will be the second year that students are being drafted for military training. Out of 69,000 students last year only 4,000 agreed to go to the war. Abdallah also said University students, public and private sector employees and craftsmen would have to report. (AFP, June 1)
Sudan gives support to HAMAS: The governor of Khartoum State said that Sudan has given to the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) office space, land and farms to use in support of the "Palestinian struggle". The decision announced by Majzub al-Khalifa coincides with a visit to Sudan by the founder and spiritual guide of HAMAS, Sheikh Yassin, who was present at a joint meeting of the Khartoum State government, legislative council and decision-making National Congress. "The assistance is in appreciation of Sheikh Yassin's contribution to reviving the Jihad (holy war) and in recognition of HAMAS". Khalifa also announced that charity organizations to back the Palestinian Jihad would also be set up soon in Sudan. Sheikh Yassin arrived in Sudan on May 29 on the latest leg of his tour of Arab and Moslem nations. (AFP, May 29 and June 2- 8)
Two Ugandan deputies charged with incitement: Two Ugandan parliamentarians were charged in a Kampala court with incitement to violence and promoting sectarianism. They have been granted bail of US $800 each. Both men had been earlier quoted in the state-owned New Vision newspaper as saying there would be bloodshed if a draft land bill did not favor the interests of the Buganda tribe in central Uganda. Both MPs denied the charge. The Baganda are the nation's biggest tribe. They have been up in arms since the issue of the draft bill, which many Buganda see as a ploy by the government to grab their land. The controversy over the little-understood bill centers on the conversion to freehold of leases on public land. Buganda leaders met on May 11 to discuss the land bill and ask the government to draft a new bill, which would scrap the transfer of leases to freehold. (AFP, May 7)
Media institute moving in Uganda: The Nairobi-based Eastern African Media Institute is relocating to Uganda following the Kenyan government's failure to register the organization since it was launched a year and a half ago. The 15-nation institute was set up last year following a meeting in Mauritius. It aims to co-ordinate training of journalists, share information on the abuse of press freedom and human rights in the region, and exchange information on development issues. (AFP, May 7)
Four qualify to bid for Uganda Airlines: The country's privatisation unit announced on May 12 that four international companies have qualified for the last stage of bidding for troubled Uganda Airlines. The privatisation unit director Michael Opagi said Ugandan authorities had still not decided how much of the airline to sell, only that it would be a majority stake. The enterprise has to have the credibility to develop Entebbe airport into a regional hub and provide expertise to fully utilise the airline's routes. There are two leased planes neither of which is working now and unpaid bills from IATA. The assets are its staff and its international routes. The sale should be finished by the end of September. (The Monitor, May 14)
Kenyan and Congolese Presidents in Uganda: The Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso met the Ugandan President on May 17 to discuss ways to integrate the African continent. Both stressed the necessity of building infrastructure in Africa. The two agreed to exchange business delegations to explore bilateral trade opportunities and to strengthen air links between Uganda and Congo. On May 19, also the Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi with six people of his cabinet ministers arrived in Kampala for a three-day visit. (AFP, May 19)
Rebel leader Kony enters Uganda with his fighters: The Ugandan Monitor newspaper reported on May 25 that rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony has entered north Uganda from rear-base camps in southern Sudan. For two days the rebels clashed with the Ugandan army in the Gulu district. Meanwhile, a separate LRA force, struck at the Orungu Roman Catholic Mission health center in the eastern Katakwi district. Hundreds of people have been displaced in Katakwi following clashes and more than 10,000 people have also been displaced in the neighboring Lira district, and they were living in centers for the displaced around Lira town. The LRA attack on May 21 in Katakwi district was the first attack in that area for many years and was seen as an attempt by the rebels to divert attention from the border ahead of Konya's crossing. Army sources estimate the number of rebels in Uganda at about 800. On May 26 some 3,000 people started to return home, although many others were wary of going back. During the third weekend of May WFP distributed 70 tons of maize and 30 tons of beans to the displaced people. The International Committee of the Red Cross was about to send more food, cooking pots, soap, jerrycans and blankets to the remaining 6,700 refugees in Lira town. (AFP, May 25-26 and 28)
Museveni warns against Sudan's support of LRA: Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has warned that Uganda will hit back at Sudan if the Sudanese government does not dissociate itself from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels. In an interview in Gulu town Museveni said that "despite staying with Kony, the Sudan government lost almost all Western Equatoria last year and big chunks of Eastern Equatoria..." Museveni was referring to last year's offensive by the southern Sudanese rebel group SPLA, which saw the entire length of the Sudan-Uganda border fall into SPLA hands. Many Ugandans accuse Museveni of sacrificing the people of northern Uganda to the liberation of southern Sudan by supporting the SPLA. But Museveni, while maintaining that Uganda does not support the SPLA, said that the key to guaranteeing security in the region lay in solving "internal weaknesses" within the Ugandan army. His latest initiative has been a new road along the Sudan-Uganda border, in order to prevent infiltration by the LRA. (AFP, May 24)
Sudan and Uganda hand back POWs: On May 24, the Sudan government handed back to Uganda two prisoners of war captured inside Sudan last year. Minister of State for Political Affairs Amama Mbabazi described the hand over as "a good sign in our otherwise frosty relations" and said he hoped it marked the beginning of improved ties between the two countries. The two prisoners were involved in tracking down Kony rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) inside Sudan. They went in, and Sudan government forces captured them. The hand-over took place after the Ugandan government on May 20 handed-over 42 Sudanese prisoners of war. These prisoners were part of a group of 114 captured south of Juba in April last year. (AFP, May 24)
Former Ugandan rebel leader to resume activities? Alice Lakwena, the exiled leader of a Ugandan rebel group known as the Holy Spirit Movement, wrote a letter published by the East African newspaper. In the letter she said that she intends to resume her struggle to overthrow the government of President Yoweri Museveni. Lakwena, who lives in a UN refugee camp in Kenya, led 10,000 rebels against Museveni in 1988. She said she wrote the letter in response to a claim by State minister for Political Affairs, Amama Mbabazi, that she wanted to return to Uganda but that the government could not grant her immunity from prosecution. (AFP, May 26)
Misunderstanding between Congo and Uganda: A diplomatic row erupted between the governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda in May after the DRC's Economy Minister, Pierre Victor Mpoyo, accused Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni of insulting his DRC counterpart, Laurent Kabila, and interfering in the nation's affairs. Later Uganda denied that relations with the DRC were strained and the two countries remained partners despite some misunderstanding. Uganda's State Minister for International Relations, Martin Aliker, said that "the misunderstanding arose from the failure to co-ordinate visits of leaders and ministers in the region". Relations between the two countries deteriorated since Kabila took power, although Uganda supported Kabila's revolt in former Zaire. (AFP, June 2)
Human rights commission demands release of detained Moslems: On June 4 Uganda's human rights commission demanded that authorities release 80 Moslems arrested and detained without charge on suspicion that they backed a rebel group. The Moslems, who were picked up mainly in Kampala over the past year, include members of the Tabliq Sect, which is accused of having links with the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels. (AFP, June 4)
Further rebel activity: A military source said the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels attacked two civilian targets, including a school, killing 50 civilians in the western Kabarole district. Most of the dead were school children. The ADF, a band of rebel groups, has been fighting for a year to destabilise the Uganda government. Their main hideouts are in the Ruwenzori mountain range, which straddles the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. In recent months, Kampala has also accused Kinshasha of failing to curb ADF activities in eastern Congo. (AFP, June 8)
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Information in this update has been obtained from UN, NGO and media reports; reference is made to sources as appropriate. No claims are made by the UNDP-EUE as to the accuracy of these reports. This and other reports produced by the UNDP-EUE are available from the UN Ethiopia Country Team web site at www.telecom.net.et/unresco/.
17 June, 1998
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