Great Lakes: IRIN Update 124, 3/11/97

Great Lakes: IRIN Update 124, 3/11/97

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Subject: Great Lakes: IRIN Update 124 for 11 Mar 1997 97.3.11

* Zairean rebels said today that they were within ten kilometers of Kisangani - the last government stronghold in northeastern Zaire - and that the fall of the city is imminent. The rebels say that they have closed in on three fronts and will not stop their push until President Mobutu Sese Seko agrees to face-to-face negotiations. The radio station of the rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) said that a corridor had been left open to the west so that civilians and Zairean soldiers from Kisangani could flee. Leader of the ADFL, Laurent-Desire Kabila told AFP yesterday that his troops had been involved in heavy clashes during their advance on Kisangani. Kabila said that some of his men had infiltrated into Kisangani, the base for the government's counter-offensive.

The Zairean Ministry of Defence denies rebel claims and said yesterday that the rebels were at least 50 kilometers away from the city. No independent account of the situation around Kisangani was available, but sources say that the area surrounding Kisangani is heavily mined and that the three main approach roads are manned by government forces and mercenaries. The Belgrade daily "Dnevni Telegraf" alledged yesterday that 5,000 Serb mercenaries were fighting alongside the Zairean Army. Many Kisangani civilians, meanwhile, have fled Kisangani at night by road, in dug out canoes or via chartered flights. In spite of rebel claims that the battle for Kisangani is imminent, Belgium's Secretary of State for International Cooperation, Reginald Moreels, arrived today in Kisangani, bringing medical supplies to the city. Zaire Airlines also said it would go ahead with its scheduled flights to Kisangani on Thursday and Saturday. * Rwandan sources told Reuters that the two top commanders of the ex-FAR, who have been fighting alongside the Zairean Army, fled Kisangani for Kinshasa last week. Major-General Augustine Bizimungu, commander of Rwanda's ousted 40,000 strong army and his deputy and director of combat operations, Brigadier-General Gratien Kabiligi reportedly left Kisangani to restock supplies for their troops, but did not return.

* France's President Jacques Chirac today urged the international community to press for a ceasefire in Zaire and to help the thousands of refugees standed in the fighting. AFP says that diplomatic sources believe France wants the United States, in particular, to apply pressure on Kabila to halt his offensive. Kabila agreed in principle at the weekend to a five point UN peace plan which calls for a ceasefire and the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops, including mercenaries. Kabila has not agreed to a ceasefire but said he would not attack the town of Ubundu, 100 kilometers south of Kisangani, where tens of thousands of Rwandan refugees have arrived. Most of the refugees are from Tingi-Tingi camp which housed 160,000 - 170,000 refugees before it was overrun by rebels last month. * Heavy rains have begun to fall in eastern Zaire, a factor which western military experts believe may slow down the rebel advance, but will ultimately affect government troops more than the rebels, reports AFP. At the same time, many roads will be impassable and there are concerns that this will hamper plans to set up corridors through rebel-held terriority to facilitate repatriation of Rwandan refugees. Relief agencies said yesterday that they were mounting a relief operation within the next few days in Tingi-Tingi following an inter-agency UN/NGO mission on Sunday. The condition of refugees in Tingi-Tingi is reported to be very poor. Some 400,000 refugees are estimated to be in eastern Zaire: many of them are unaccounted for and are believed to be hiding in the forests. An unknown, but large number, of Zaireans have also been displaced by the fighting and are in need of assistance.

As part of efforts to assist refugees emerging from the jungle, a way station has been set up by UNHCR in Kinguluba town further to the east towards Rwanda. The station is manned by 10 relief workers, including two UNHCR staff. Stocks of high protein biscuits and medicines have been pre-positioned at the station. A team is also being sent north of Kinguluba to investigate reports of a large number of refugees gathering in Nzofu.

* President Mobutu will return to Zaire from southern France before the end of the week for talks on the crisis, said an aide. Mobutu returned to France on 21 February - his third visit since undergoing surgery for prostate cancer last August.

* AFP reports that Kabila was hailed as a saviour when he visited Kindu yesterday in what was his furthest visit into the interior since his rebel forces seized swathes of Zaire. Kindu fell to the ADLF on 2 March. In Kindu, Kabila said that his troops had taken Moba in southeast Zaire on Sunday - the last government-held port on Lake Tanganyika. Moise Nyarugabo, a senior official in the rebel leadership, told AFP that Moba had been defended mainly by Burundian rebels loyal to CNDD/FDD leader, Leonard Nyangoma. There has been no independent confirmation that Moba had fallen.

The Zairean currency, the new Zaire (NZ), is reported to have appreciated sharply against the US dollar in Kindu since the rebel take-over. Residents dealing in the black market told AFP that the dollar was going for around 80,000 NZ against 150,000 NZ - the level before the city fell. The NZ is running at same rate (80,000 NZ per US dollar) in Goma, the centre of the rebellion.

* Emma Bonino, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs, is reported to have said that humanitarian aid in eastern Zaire should not discriminate between the refugees and members of the armed militia. Bonino is quoted as saying at a press conference in Geneva that it was "not our job to be judges" and that assistance should be provided to those who are suffering " whether or not they are criminals or perpetrators of genocide".

* The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said yesterday that allegations by the Zairean Government that the agency's withdrawal from Kisangani had led to thousands of deaths were "simply groundless". In a communique issued 4 March, the Zairean Government alledged that the departure of humanitarian workers from Tingi-Tingi and Kisangani led to the deaths of 25,000 people. On the same day an expulsion order was issued to those UN and NGO workers who had left.

UNHCR said that the expulsion was "unfair and unjustified" and rejected Zaire's allegations that it had left Kisangani for no good reason. In a statement issued in Geneva yesterday the High Commissioner, Sadako Ogata, said UNHCR staff "have always taken risks, often substantial risks but they have to remain within reason." Two UNHCR local staff returned to Kisangani at the weekend to assist in relief distributions to refugees gathering in Ubundu and international staff will be fielded in Punia/Ubundu. UNHCR is also planning to return to the now rebel contolled area of Tingi-Tingi.

* The Kenya government is probing the airlifting last week of more than 100 Burundian and Zairean refugees to Kenya. UNHCR has screened the group to determine refugee status. The Daily Nation reported today that sources said another 100 arrived at Wilson airport yesterday, but that this was denied by the government. Amnesty International, meanwhile, has urged the Kenya Government not to return the refugees to Zaire or to their countries of origin.

* Zambian authorities say that Zairean soldiers who have crossed into Zambia with refugees are causing security problems in the country. "Disillusioned" soldiers are reportedly looting villages and selling arms to survive. The soldiers are said to be heading towards Zambia's Copperbelt province - the hub of Zambia's economy. Some 700 refugees who have entered the country are also unaccounted for, further fuelling concerns that the situation is beyond the government's control. Some 2,200 refugees are reported by local authorities to have arrived in Zambia between October and February. News sources say that relations between Zambia and Zaire, which have been shaky, could plummet further unless the refugee situation is contained. Zambia has complained to Kinshasa on numerous occasions about acts of banditry committed by Zairean nationals. Zairean diplomats have also been accused of giving refuge to the refugees and smuggling.

* The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) claims to have taken control of the towns of Kaya and Gumuli in southern Sudan and to be advancing towards Juba, the regional capital. Army spokesman, Major General Mohammed al Sanousi Ahmed claimed on state-run radio that Kaya was first attacked on Sunday by the Ugandan Army who then handed over the town to the SPLA. Uganda's Foreign Minister, Eriya Kategaya denied the claim. The town of Kaya is reported to have been a base for the West Nile Bank Front (WNBF) rebels destablising western Uganda. Uganda's Government-owned daily newspaper, the New Vision reported today that the SPLA claimed to have killed 200 Sudanese troops, rebels from the WNBF and the Uganda National Rescue Front II - a splinter group of the WNBF -in their offensive. The New Vision reported yesterday that the SPLA had also taken control of Foki, Kimba, and Bazi along Sudan's border with Zaire.

* The typhus epidemic first signalled by WHO authorities in Burundi in early February is reported to be spreading. The government regroupment villages are said to be hardest hit because of overcrowding and poor sanitation and health structures. In some villages, as many as 500 to 1,000 new cases are reported daily. Worst hit areas are the provinces of Kayanza, Muramvua and Karuzi. WHO believes some 340,000 people are at risk and that if the epidemic is unchecked it could evolve into the largest typhus outbreak since World War II. WHO has flown in 150,000 tablets to treat typhus cases; however the related issues of sanitation and health conditions will have to be addressed immediately in order to contain the epidemic.

* Female circumcision is performed in more than half of the 46 African countries that are members of WHO, says a WHO report released in Brazzaville yesterday. The report says that more than 100 million women in sub-Saharan Africa are currently affected by sexual mutilation in the form of circumcision. Those affected include young girls between the ages of five and ten. In the Great Lakes region, circumcision is practised in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire. WHO will be launching on 17 March a regional plan to accelerate the elimination of female circumcision.

Nairobi, 11 March 1997, 19:03 GMT


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Date: Tue, 11 Mar 1997 19:25:19 +0300 From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <> Subject: Great Lakes: IRIN Update 124 for 11 Mar 1997 97.3.11 Message-ID: <>

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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