Great Lakes: IRIN Update 143, 4/4/97

Great Lakes: IRIN Update 143, 4/4/97


Department of Humanitarian Affairs

Integrated Regional Information Network

for the Great Lakes

Tel: +254 2 622147

Fax: +254 2 622129


IRIN Emergency Update No. 143 on the Great Lakes (Friday 4 April 1997)

* Only two days after taking office, Zaire's new prime minister, Etienne Tshisekedi faces being sacked after challenging the legitimacy of the regime that appointed him. According to AFP, a special meeting of opposition leaders was scheduled today to discuss whether to replace him. Under the 1994 constitution which Tshisekedi has rejected, opposition parties name the prime minister. The political storm blew up after Tshisekedi, in his first day of office, dismissed Zaire's transitional parliament saying that it should be replaced by a legislature conceived in 1992, but never ratified by Zaire's president, Mobutu Sese Seko. Tshisekedi announced his new 24-member government line-up without getting prior approval from Mobutu and further snubbed the president by not giving a single job to any Mobutu supporter, but offering six cabinet posts to the rebel group, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL). The ADFL promptly rejected the offer. Tshisekedi replaced Kengo wa Dondo, who was forced to resign over his failure to stop the advance of the ADFL across Zaire.

* As the ADFL troops continued to close in on Lubumbashi, Shaba province - Zaire's second largest city - tensions also increased in Mbuji Mayi, the capital of diamond-rich eastern Kasai province. Sources in Kinshasa confirmed AFP reports that Zairean soldiers troops began looting and shooting in Mbuji Mayi in the early hours of this morning - a possible precursor to fleeing the town. Vehicles belonging to MIBA mining company were seized and gun-fire was heard in the market place. Rebels say they have encircled the town, despite government troop reinforcements in mid March. A significant portion of the town's civilian population is armed and sources said that they are fighting government soldiers in an attempt to protect their property.

* Peace talks between representatives of the Zaire government and ADFL are scheduled to begin Sunday in Pretoria, unnamed South African diplomats told AFP. Mobutu's special envoy, Honore Ngbanda Nzambo, arrived in South Africa last night and the ADFL delegation, led by Bizima Karah, was reported to have left Goma, eastern Zaire aboard a South African Air Force plane yesterday. As of late Friday afternoon, officials in South Africa had not confirmed the date for the talks nor the arrival of the ADFL party. South African Deputy Foreign Minister, Aziz Pahad and the Joint UN/OAU Special Representative for the Great Lakes region, Mohammed Sahnoun, meanwhile, met yesterday to discuss arrangements for the meeting. Pahad said that he believed that the ADFL were "serious about peace and democracy". Analysts believe, however, that the talks are little more than a gesture to the international community and say that the rebels, coming from a position of strength, are unlikely to modify their position over a cease-fire or their call for Mobutu to step down.

* The heads of UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP and the European Union in a joint statement issued today called on all parties to the Zairean conflict to respect humanitarian principles and allow aid workers immediate and unrestricted access to refugees emerging from the forests in eastern Zaire. The statement also contained an appeal to the international community for urgent assistence to help reach those in need, "provide them with emergency aid and -eventually- repatriate those who wish to return home and provide asylum for bona fide refugees who continue to need it".

UNHCR said today that some 120 refugees were dying each day in two makeshift camps south of Kisangani and that at least 20,000 children, women, sick and elderly are in urgent need of evacuation. The US government has also stepped up pressure on the ADFL to facilitate humanitarian access to the refugees and called on rebel leader Laurent-Desire Kabila to "reconsider" his rejection of an invitation to join the Zairean government. The Rwandan refugee party, the Rally for the Return of Refugees and Democracy in Rwanda (RDR) claimed Friday that almost 1,000 refugees had died since 22 March because of lack of care or at the hands of the rebels.

The UN's Regional Humanitarian Coordinator, Pierce Garety said that major concerns of relief agencies were to ensure that life-saving assistance - food, water, medical care - can continue to be provided to the refugees where they are since many are in no condition to move and to be able to repatriate them to their home country as safely and as quickly as possible. "UNHCR has presented a repatriation plan to the ADFL which involves airlifting at least the most vulnerable via Kisangani. We are hopeful that this will be approved soon", he said.

The ADFL has allowed UNHCR to undertake repatriation of the 15-20,000 refugees who recently emerged from the forest area near Karuba west of Sake. However, bottlenecks have been encountered in the repatriation effort as the ADFL has set up a road block near Sake to screen potential returnees. The road block is staffed by only one soldier and hence the screening process is extremely slow and has reduced the number of refugees reaching Goma for repatriation to Rwanda. From April 1 to 3 UNHCR assisted in the repatriation of some 7,000 refugees mainly from the Karuba group.

* WFP yesterday sent a staff member on foot to Ubundu to carry out a needs assessment of refugees in the area. Few of the refugees were located near to the railway line, and most had moved 3-4 kms into the bush. In Ubundu itself, about 800 new arrivals have been recorded in the last few days while some 10-15 refugees continue to cross from the east to the west bank daily. Around 110 MTs of food was delivered by train from Kisangani yesterday - WFP's fourth train delivery since the town fell to ADFL forces. In order to expedite aid deliveries, WFP airlifted in five 10-ton trucks and non-food supplies for UNHCR from Mwanza in Tanzania.

* A US helicopter assault ship, carrying more than 1,800 marines, has arrived some 350 kms off the west coast of Africa in preparation for a possible evacuation from Zaire. A spokesman for the US government said that some of the 670 troops in Brassaville, Congo would be withdrawn, leaving a smaller force of about 400. Some 500 US citizens are presently in Zaire. The total number of western troops ready to assist in a possible evacuation of expatriates from Zaire has now reached 4,000.

* Tanzania's Foreign Ministry said Friday that a regional summit to review the economic sanctions on Burundi will now be held in Arusha, Tanzania on 14 April. The summit was originally scheduled for 8 April but was postponed because it clashed with a Common Market of East and Southern Africa summit to be held in Lusaka. Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Zaire, Zambia and Tanzania are expected to attend the summit.

Nairobi, 4 April 1997, 16:35 GMT


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Date: Fri, 4 Apr 1997 19:12:03 +0300 From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <> Subject: Great Lakes: IRIN Update 143 for 4 Apr 1997 97.4.4 Message-ID: <>

Editor: Ali Dinar,