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IRIN Emergency Update No. 128 on the Great Lakes (15-16 March 1997)
* Zairean rebels captured Kisangani - Zaire's third largest city - on Saturday, the biggest prize in their five-month offensive. Rebel radio "Voice of the People" reported on Saturday that the city had been taken after five hours of fierce fighting. Earlier in the day, the radio had reported the capture of the international airport, some 17 kilometres away from the city. CNN said that sources in Kinsangani reported Zairean soldiers retreated from the front on Friday night saying that "it's all finished, it's all lost". The rebels were reported to have been led by the 25-year-old son of Laurent-Desire Kabila, leader of the rebel group, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL). Captain Ndjoli Esenge Akeli, legal adviser for the Zaire military, said that mercenaries holding the international airport tried to make the Zairean troops hold their ground and a fire fight had ensued. There were many deaths, he said. By dawn on Saturday most Zairean troops had fled during the night and those who remained were looting the city. Armaments were reportedly looted and mines planted in the forests surrounding the city.
An AFP correspondent in Kisangani said that many of the Government troops left on skiffs across the river while Serb mercenaries took off in helicopters they had earlier used to bombard rebel positions. The Governor of Upper Zaire and large numbers of civilians are also reported to have fled. Some 15 expatriates, including French nationals, aid workers and two AFP journalists, were evacuated by a French military plane to Bangui in Central African Republic.
A westerner in Kisangani told AFP by telephone on Saturday that the rebels entered the city to "shouts of joy" from the remaining 500,000 residents. No shots were fired in the city centre. Kinshasa was reported to be calm yesterday but the government has remained silent regarding the fate of Kisangani. Sources in Kinshasa said that the fall of Kisangani, a major transport hub on the Zaire River and capital of the diamond rich Upper Zaire, is a major blow to the government's counter-offensive and to the regime of President Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu, who has prostate cancer, was readmitted to hospital in Monaco yesterday, although aides had earlier said that he may return to Zaire today. Analysts predict that the fall of Kisangani could be a fatal blow to Prime Minister Kengo wa Dondo who only on Wednesday vowed that the city would not fall, and will probably erode what support Mobutu has left. Some military observers say that with the capture of Kisangani the balance of the civil war would shift to Laurent-Desire Kabila. Others believe that Kabila's forces would meet with stiffer resistence if they move outside eastern Zaire.
Mohamed Sahnoun, Joint UN/OAU Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region met with Kabila for three and a half hours in Goma on Saturday and briefed the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan on the outcome of the talks. UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said that Kabila had reaffirmed his acceptance of the UN's five point peace-plan, but rejected a cease-fire and wanted face to face talks with Kinshasa. Kabila told journalists in Goma on Saturday that his forces would push "as far as Kinshasa" and called on President Mobutu to step down. The five point peace plan, which has the support of the UN Security Council, calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries, negotiations, elections and the protection of refugees. On Sunday, rebel leaders said that if Kinshasa refused to negotiate, their next target was Lubumbashi, capital of the mineral-rich province of Shaba in the south.
* At a press conference in Goma on Saturday, Kabila repeated his accusation that there were some 2,000 UNITA troops (former members of Jonas Savimbi's Angolan guerrilla forces) fighting alongside Zairean soldiers. He also claimed that there were some 3,000 ex-FAR (former Rwandan government forces) and a command structure of French officers. Both Angola and France have denied official involvement.
* In France, Prime Minister Alain Juppe repeated his plea for a multi-national force to save as many as 400,000 Rwandan and Burundi refugees who have been caught up in the fighting. Both the US government and Britain had rejected the plea last week, but at the weekend a spokesman for the US government said that "the door was still open". Juppe also accused the rebels of massacring Hutus and said that forces of neighbouring countries had invaded "to help the rebels and destablise the country".
* President Daniel arap Moi said on Saturday that he expected Mobutu or one of his representatives to attend a regional summit in Nairobi scheduled Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the crisis in Zaire. The meeting will prepare the way for a wider "Nairobi III" summit - a follow-up to two earlier summits in the Kenyan capital - at a later date. Invitations to next week's meeting have been sent to presidents Mobutu, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Paul Biya of Cameroon and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Mandela has said that he will not attend the summit but would send an official to represent him. Today's Kenyan newspaper, the Daily Nation, reports that opposition groups have urged Moi to invite Kabila to the talks. Moi has previously rejected similar proposals. Another summit on Zaire is due to be held on 25/26 March in Lome.
* Relief agencies were standing by yesterday for the green light from rebels and the Zaire government to restart aid flights to Kisangani. WFP suspended relief flights to the city - its base for food delivery to refugees in Ubundu, some 100 kms to the south - on Saturday but had been planning to send in an Ilyushin cargo plane twice a day to feed the more than 100,000 refugees who are gathered in Ubundu. Many of the refugees are continuing to try to cross to the west bank of the Zaire river; some 10,000 are reported to have succeeded. As many as 300 have drowned in the river.
Nairobi, Monday 17 March, 07:00 GMT [ENDS]
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Date: Mon, 17 Mar 1997 10:02:20 +0300 From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Great Lakes: IRIN Update 128 for 15-16 Mar 1997 97.3.17 Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.3.95.970317095458.9682K-ength: 6799
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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