Great Lakes: IRIN Update 130, 3/18/97

Great Lakes: IRIN Update 130, 3/18/97

Department of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network

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IRIN Emergency Update No. 130 on the Great Lakes (18 March 1997)

* As rebels continued their advance across Zaire, the streets of Kinshasa, the capital of Zaire, were rife with rumours today concerning the health of President Mobutu Sese Seko and a possible coup attempt by the military. Some newspapers are quoted as saying that Mobutu is seriously ill, or dying. According to local businessmen in Kinshasa, rumours of a coup have been circulating since yesterday following a series of meetings between top Zairean generals. Later-night army movements and unexplained automatic fire overnight in the Limete section of the capital on Sunday have compounded doubts about the security of the city. The Zairean Government has dismissed rumours but despite reassurances, sources in Kinshasa say that tension continued to rise throughout the day and that "wild rumours" have persisted.

* Mobutu, 66, was operated on for prostate cancer in August last year. Sources close to Mobutu's family told IRIN that he returned to Europe for a scheduled check-up but was unexpectedly admitted to hospital. A spokesman for Mobutu, Gad Cohen, denied that Mobutu was in serious condition and said that he could be released from hospital as early as today. Mobutu's son, Mobutu Nzanga, told AFP in Monaco that his father would return home very soon to "settle the crisis", but no departure date was given. Mobutu, who has held power in Zaire for more than three decades, has visited France three times for follow-up treatment since his operation. Aides said that Mobutu had telephoned his Cabinet twice yesterday from his hospital bed.

Sources in Kinshasa say that since the rebel take-over of Kisangani - Zaire's third largest city - at the weekend, the movement of people out of the capital has accelerated. Many people, including high-level government members and their families, military officers and members of Mobutu's family, are reported to be leaving Kinshasa via ferries across the Zaire River to Brazzaville, the capital of neighbouring Congo. A Congolese Red Cross official confirmed to AFP today that members of Mobutu's family had arrived. All international flights are fully booked. Many Europeans have laid siege to the head offices of airlines and travel agencies since Monday morning, while others are reported to have rushed to the shops to "stock up". Some foreign shop owners have boarded their stores to prevent looting. The French government told AFP yesterday that it has no plans to evacuate its citizens from Kinshasa. Other European Embassies have also not issued evacuation orders, but have advised caution.

Gaetan Kakudji, ADFL foreign affairs spokesman, declared on Monday that Mobutu no longer ruled the country and that the way lay open for them to move on to Kinshasa. The government has not yet confirmed the fall of Kisangani but issued a statement after an unscheduled cabinet meeting yesterday saying that Kisangani had been attacked by "heavily armed regular units of the Ugandan Army, equipped with sophiscated weapons". Uganda has repeatedly denied charges that it was supporting the rebels.

* In Kisangani, some 300 Zairean government troops handed their weapons over to the ADFL on Monday. Reuters reports that the soldiers will be "re-educated and retrained" by the ADFL. One Zairean soldier is reported to have said "We want change. Why flee?" Reports from Kisangani indicate that the city is calm and life is swiftly returning to normal. Kabila's 25-year-old son Joseph who led the rebels into the city is said to have stopped looting of the city within hours of taking it.

* As rebels advance through Shaba towards Kasai, "Le Soft" newspaper reports that Jonas Muamba Kadiata Nzemba, the head of Kasai mineral giant, MIBA, has declared that he would cooperate with Kabila "if he comes here". MIBA is believed to be a major source of financing for Mobutu. Its possible fall into rebel hands, coupled with the previous losses of SOMINKI in Maniema and Kilo Mota in Haut Zaire, would present a significant financial blow to Mobutu. Gecamines in Shaba is the only remaining mineral giant of any significance in government held territory. Analysts say that Nzemba's announcement carries weight both with regard to the economic importance of MIBA and because of his own political stature. Nzemba has been a long time member of the MRP and at times has been closely associated with Zairean opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi.

* In Paris, Zairean Foreign Minister, Kamanda wa Kamanda said yesterday that the capture of Kisangani by the ADFL could lead to a partitioning of the country. In a communique to AFP, the Foreign Minister said that the capture of Kisangani "with the support of foreign troops" carries the "seeds and the risks" of the partition of Zaire "on the 25th parallel" stretching from Kisangani to Kamina in Shaba. Kamanda accused the European Union and the United Nations of having abandoned Zaire and failing to put pressure on Kabila to observe a UN peace plan, including a cease-fire.

France, the only western country still supporting the Zairean government, has continued to press for a cease-fire. Speaking on French radio, Foreign Minister Herve de Charette said yesterday that the first step in the beginning of a settlement is that the cease-fire is also accepted by Kabila. The government of Zaire agreed last month to a cease-fire under the UN five-point peace plan. Analysts say that the fall of Kisagani confirms that France backed the wrong side and criticised the country's "blind support for Mobutu". Kabila warned France today against intervening militarily in Zaire to prop up Mobutu. He told a rally in Goma that he believed the French government wanted to replace Mobutu "with his cronies" and that it would approve a coup d'etat in Kinshasa. Kabila added that if there was a coup, the war would go on. US Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs, George Moose was scheduled to hold talks today with Charette.

* Members of the UN Security Council on Monday urged all parties to the conflict in Zaire to allow humanitarian access to as many as 400,000 Rwandan and Burundian refugees trapped by fighting or hiding in the forests. The call followed a closed door briefing of the Security Council by senior UN official Ibrahima Fall. AFP said that Fall told the Council that Kabila had promised Mohamed Sahnoun, Joint UN/OAU Special Representative for the Great Lakes, access to refugees in rebel held territory. The Council reaffirmed support for Sahnoun's peace mission and for the regional mini-summit to be held on Wednesday in Nairobi. The Council also called on rebels and government to comply with the UN peace plan. Kabila, who has repeatedly said that face to face negotiations with Kinshasa must take place before he will agree to a cease-fire, announced a seven-day unilateral cease-fire around Kisangani today to facilitate relief operations and repatriation. AFP reports that Kabila said that the cease-fire would take effect within a radius of 20 kms outside Kisangani but that the offensive would continue in other parts of the country. "There is no cease-fire in Shaba, nor in Kasai", he said. * Aid agencies said today that they are continuing to wait for the green light from the ADFL to resume operations in Kisangani. Prior to the rebel take-over, looters emptied one of the World Food Programme's two warehouses in the city, but left limited stocks in the other. Other agency warehouses were also looted. A spokeswoman for WFP said that stocks in the warehouses were low due to disruption in deliveries in March. WFP, as other agencies, was using Kisangani as a hub to feed some 85,000 refugees in Ubundu, 100 km to the south of Kisangani. Relief distributions to some 35,000 displaced persons living with families, in hospitals and a few makeshift centres in Kisangani were also being undertaken.

* Some 15,000 refugees are reported to have crossed the Zaire river into Ubundu town on the west bank. More are attempting to cross despite the risk of drowning. Another 50,000 refugees are reported to be on the road heading towards the river. Local authorities have agreed to set up a site for the refugees on the west side outside Ubundu town, but refugee leaders have said that they want to move on to Opala, 200 kms west of Ubundu. If they do, aid workers say that it will be virtually impossible to reach them.

* Human Rights Watch has appealed to officials of the US, EU, UN and OAU to redouble efforts to protect the "tens of thousands of noncombattant refugees" caught up in the fighting. The organisation says that the refugees face attack by the ADFL and that information collected by Human Rights Watch and from other sources indicate that ADFL forces and ex-FAR have slaughtered unarmed civilians. The organisation has called for a "prompt and thorough investigation of charges of massive killings of civilians and other violations of international humanitarian law in eastern Zaire".

* UNHCR, in collaboration with WFP and UNICEF, began on Monday an evacuation of unaccompanied children from Tingi-Tingi and Amisi. A WFP plane airlifted 16 malnourished children to Goma where they will be accommodated before being placed with families in Rwanda. Two other children died before they could be flown out of Tingi-Tingi. More flights are planned. About 1,000 refugees, mostly too weak or too sick to travel, have remained in Tingi-Tingi and a further 1,200 refugees are in Amisi. Tingi-Tingi housed up to 160,000 refugees prior to the rebel advance. UN and other aid agencies have been flying daily into Tingi-Tingi and Amisi from Goma. Sources reported three flights today into both locations.

Representatives from WFP, UNHCR, UNICEF, MSF and Oxfam flew into Kalima and Kindu yesterday. In Kindu they found about 200 unaccompanied children. A trip to Shabunda had to be called off because the airstrip was waterlogged. Daily flights are planned into Kindu.

* South Africa's Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki, will attend Wednesday's mini-summit of African heads of state in Nairobi on the conflict in Zaire, but diplomatic sources say that a breakthrough was unlikely without ADFL attendance. Sources in Cape Town said yesterday that Mbeki will stand in for President Nelson Mandela whose workload has been lightened ahead of a State visit to India and Bangladesh. Mandela met with Kabila and a representative of the Zairean government in South Africa last month. At the weekend, presidential aide, Parks Mankahlana denied that Mandela's absence could be perceived as an acknowledgement that his mediation efforts had failed. The Zairean crisis was not the presidential's personal responsibility but "the whole of Africa's", he said.

Prime Minister Kengo wa Dondo is expected to be present, along with the presidents of Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Tanzania. OAU Secretary-General, Salim Ahmed Salim will also attend, along with Mohamed Sahnoun. Zaire was not represented at the two previous regional summits. The latest meeting is a followup to the second Nairobi summit in February at which the presidents of Kenya, South Africa, Cameroon and Zimbabwe were mandated to seek a solution to the conflict. Salim told AFP upon his arrival in Kenya today that the summit will look at mechanisms to end civil war in Zaire, for starting negotiations and monitoring a cease-fire. Salim said that any initiative coming from the summit would depend on briefings by Sahnoun on his recent meetings with Kabila. In Goma, Kabila said that he expected "nothing to emerge" from the meeting. * Benjamin Mkapa, President of Tanzania and Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe have been holding private talks in the Zimbabwe capital of Harare. Although no details have been released, Radio Tanzania's External Service reported yesterday that the two leaders are believed to have discussed matters affecting their nations and the latest developments in central Africa, with particular attention to the situation in Zaire. Mr Mkapa is also believed to be lobbying for Salim in his bid for a third term as Secretary-General of the OAU. Salim is a former Tanzanian prime minister.

* Two soldiers and 50 rebels were reported killed in fighting on Friday near the Burundi capital of Bujumbura. Burundi Army spokesman, Isaie Nibizi said that the Army seized 13 light weapons during the fighting in Muhuta area.

* The Burundian minister of interior and public security, Lt-Col Epitace Bayaganakandi, has released a list of eight people already arrested for their implication in the assassination plot against the head of state. BBC Monitoring reports that the Burundi radio quoted Minister Bayaganakandi as saying that the plot and the anti-tank mines planted on Wednesday night (12th March) were the work of one and the same group.

According to Burundian radio, monitored by BBC, the following people have been arrested: Isaac Nitereka, member of the board of directors of Parena (National Recovery Party) party who was also its representative in urban Bujumbura; Laurent Bimenyumuremyi, deputy provincial representative of Parena in Gitega; Isidore Rufyikiri, in charge of ideology and propaganda for the Parena party; Lt-Col (retd) Pascal Ntako, in charge of security affairs in Parena; Alexis (?Bibavimbere), Parena member; Capt Protais Nzeyimana, army officer still serving at the Mwaro (?reserve) battalion (western Burundi); Cpl (name indistinct) (?Nizigiyimana) still serving at the Bururi (southern Burundi) military barracks; and finally, Paul Mugambage, who deserted from the Rwandan Patriotic Army in 1995.

* The trial of three genocide suspects began yesterday in the International Criminal Tribunal sitting in Arusha yesterday. The three suspects - Clement Kayishema, Obed Ruzindana and Gerard Ntakirutimana - are accused of genocide and other crimes against humanity in Kibuye Prefecture. The case was adjourned. The trial of George Rutaganda, the vice-president of the Interahamwe is scheduled to begin today after a two week delay to facilitate location of 16 defence witnesses. The witnesses had been based in Tingi-Tingi. * A refugee spokesman told the Inter Press Service news agency that 200 Zairean refugees living in Khartoum and southern Sudan had asked UNHCR to repatriate them to eastern Zaire. According to Sudanese officials there are some 120,000 Zairean refugees in the country. A UNHCR official in Khartoum said that no official request for repatriation had been received by his office.

* Uganda's New Vision newspaper today reports that thousands of Sudanese refugees have left Uganda and arrived in Kaya, a border town in southern Sudan which fell to the SPLA during the weekend of 8/9 March. The paper reports that the refugees lined the road from Koboko in Uganda across the border to the town, both young and old, bringing goats, dogs and heavy loads. Uganda is home to an estimated 200,000 Sudanese refugees, most of whom are in Arua and Moyo districts.

* The death of Colonel Juma Oris, commander of the West Nile Bank Front (WNBF), reported in Uganda's Sunday Monitor newspaper, has yet to be confirmed. Today's Monitor reports that both the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) and the WNBF are searching for his body. The Sunday Moniter reported that the UPDF killed Oris on Saturday morning in fighting close to the Uganda-Sudan border.

* Tanzania has refuted allegations by relief agencies that it was blocking humanitarian cargo destined for Burundi. Agencies said that in spite of special exemptions to the economic sanctions imposed on Burundi by neighbouring states in July last year, goods were being held up. Tanzania's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jakaya Kikwete told a press conference late last week that this was not the case and said that it appeared the issue "is being used as a political weapon to pressure countries to lift the sanctions".

Nairobi, 18 March 1997, 16:00 GMT [ENDS]

[Via the UN DHA Integrated Regional Information Network. The material contained in this communication may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN DHA IRIN Tel: +254 2 622123 Fax: +254 2 622129 e-mail: for more information. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts from this report should include attribution to the original sources mentioned, not simply "DHA".]

Date: Tue, 18 Mar 1997 19:11:24 +0300 From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <> Subject: Great Lakes: IRIN Update 130 for 18 Mar 1997 97.3.18 Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.3.95.970318190723.18609B-ength: 16615

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

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