Great Lakes: IRIN Update 148, 4/11/97

Great Lakes: IRIN Update 148, 4/11/97


Department of Humanitarian Affairs

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IRIN Emergency Update No.148 on the Great Lakes (Friday 11 April 1997)

* Pressure continued to mount on beleaguered Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko to step down as the USA - a one-time staunch supporter of his regime - again called for a ceasefire and a new constitutional authority. "The United States, along with others ... urge the parties to commence negotiations that would lead to a ceasefire and an end to the hostilities between the two factions," White House spokesman Mike McCurry said yesterday. Washington, he said, hoped the Zairean government and the rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) would reach "some interim arrangement for a new constitutional authority in Zaire". On Wednesday, the spokesman alluded to Mobutu as a "creature of history", while Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs George Moose has dubbed Mobutu's regime a "thing of the past".

Echoing US sentiments, Belgium, the former colonial power, said Mobutu's era "has been over for some time". Foreign Minister Erik Derycke said the fact remained however "that Mobutu is still here and there is a sort of clique around him that has a lot of things to safeguard". He declined to say whether his country supported rebel leader Laurent Kabila, simply stating that Belgium backed "democratic process". "Nothing tells us whether one day Kabila will not turn into another Mobutu," he added. For its part, the European Union called for an end to the fighting in Zaire and to seek a speedy political solution to the conflict. It also urged rebels to ensure the safety of foreign nationals and "if necessary, to facilitate their evacuation".

Despite the apparent push for Mobutu to quit, Western envoys met his prime ministerial appointee Likulia Bolongo in Kinshasa yesterday. Commenting on the meetings with the US, Belgian, German, French and EU ambassadors, a Zairean official said Mobutu's name was not even mentioned, AFP reported. It said one of the envoys - whom it did not name - claimed the meetings amounted to de facto recognition of the new premier, appointed Wednesday after Mobutu dismissed Etienne Tshisekedi from the post. US ambassador, Daniel Simpson, was quoted by AFP as saying he believed in collective responsibility for Zaire's problems. "I don't think Mobutu or any other person is responsible for all the problems of this country," he said. He stated that Zaire badly needed change, but it was not "that we're asking him to step down". "Mobutu isn't the only person who determines the future of this country, but he still plays a very important role," he said. Mobutu, under pressure from the rebels to negotiate his departure within three days, has so far failed to respond to the ultimatum.

* The rebels meanwhile consolidated their hold over Zaire's second city, Lubumbashi, by taking the airport last night, local sources said. Troops of the Special Presidential Division (DSP) had been holding out in the area. Earlier reports suggested that the DSP forces were negotiating their surrender with the rebels. Lubumbashi was reported calm today. Meanwhile, the rebel commander of the western front, Gen. Guillaume Mulele, has issued a warning to all foreigners in Kinshasa to leave the city as soon as possible. Speaking on Gabonese Africa No.1 radio, he said members of the ADFL were already present in the Zairean capital.

* In South Africa, the Zairean warring sides resumed peace talks today in the presence of UN-OAU Great Lakes Special Representative Mohamed Sahnoun, AFP reported. The talks were adjourned on Tuesday with agreement on five "points of convergence" including the need for further talks, a ceasefire and a commitment to Zaire's territorial integrity. Details of today's talks were unclear, but a diplomat told AFP Sahnoun had cancelled a planned trip Angola which launched its first post-war government, including members of the former rebel UNITA movement. UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi, who has a post in the new government, however did not attend the swearing-in ceremony because he feared for his safety in Luanda.

* Despite their preoccupations with the war, the rebels have taken time to ensure the protection of rare mountain gorillas in eastern Zaire, of whom only about 620 survive in the wild. An official of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) told Reuters that the security of the gorillas had improved since the rebels took control of the area. "With the help of WWF emergency funds, they [rebels] have been restoring the infrastructure and equipment of the Virunga national park where many of the gorillas live, and retraining the park staff," she said. "Prospects for the gorillas are looking a lot better than they were."

* The Alliance yesterday outlined its social policy, in a rebel radio broadcast from Bunia. The ADFL advocated social advancement based on personal merit, it said. It also pledged to provide health for all by the year 2000 and to establish a health policy for schools. State education would be rehabilitated. Other plans included putting the people back to work and paying their wages to restore a reasonable purchasing power and to promote the emergence of independent trade union structures.

* In a "test run" for repatriating tens of thousands of Rwandan refugees, WFP today airlifted 200 displaced Zaireans from Kisangani to Goma. They took off aboard an Ilyushin-76 cargo plane. In a press release, WFP said flight technicians would thus be able to determine the maximum number of passengers the plane can carry, fuel consumption levels, passenger safety needs, boarding procedures and "on ground" time requirements in Kisangani and Goma. The Zaireans, from among 35,000 internally displaced people registered in Kisangani, fled their homes near Goma when rebels went on the offensive there last October. WFP has offered three planes to UNHCR for the refugee repatriation operation, estimating that between them they can carry 500-1,300 refugees daily. It has not yet been decided whether the returnees will be taken directly to Kigali, or to Goma.

* In Rwanda, the court of first instance in Nyamata has acquitted a defendant, Joseph Karega, after finding him not guilty of genocide and other crimes against humanity. Karega is the second person in the country to be acquitted since the genocide trials began last December. Meanwhile, some people in the Gikongoro area of Rwanda are stealing the skulls of genocide victims to destroy any evidence of their crimes. Yesterday, one man was arrested for stealing the skull of a young boy he murdered in the 1994 genocide, Radio Rwanda reported.

* The Burundi authorities urged political parties in the country to respond positively to an invitation by mediator, former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, to attend peace talks in Arusha this weekend. In comments broadcast by Radio Umwizero, Foreign Minister Luc Rukingama said the main objective of the meeting would be to discuss lifting the economic embargo against Burundi. "Going to Arusha amounts to sending a signal of good will and good faith towards all the partners who assisted us to keep afloat," he said. The meeting comes ahead of a regional summit in Arusha on April 16 which may include the Burundi leader, Pierre Buyoya. Most political parties have left for Arusha with the notable exception of PARENA, whose leader Jean-Baptiste Bagaza is under house arrest.

Burundi's regroupment policy was strongly attacked by the US ambassador following a visit to camps in Karuzi province. During a meeting with the provincial governor, he expressed the donor community's disapproval of the policy, while recognising the need for humanitarian assistance to the vulnerable population. US officials said it was feared that the forced regroupment policy would now spread to the southern Makamba province where fighting is raging between the military and rebel Hutus. Five provinces are currently affected by the regroupment policy, and the camps are said to be growing in size as more people become displaced.

* WFP is sending three relief flights to Tanzania's Lindi region in a bid to help thousands of people suffering first from drought, followed by severe flooding. The agency said 670,000 were in urgent need of food relief after a drought during November, December and January. In Lindi region, some 300km south of Dar-es-Salaam, the situation was exacerbated by sudden and torrential rain which swept away homes, livestock and personal belongings, leaving at least 60 people dead. Some 5,000 people are said to urgently require food, shelter and medicine. Heavy rains are also wreaking havoc on roads leading to the Kigoma refugee camps which house 270,000 Burundians and Zaireans, but food stocks are reported adequate for between two to four weeks.

* The Ugandan defence ministry is to beef up "professionalism" in the security forces with the recruitment of over 700 ground forces personnel, the state-owned Ugandan daily 'New Vision' reported. It said the move was a bid to build up the number of professionals in the defence force and vacancies had been advertised for teachers, medical workers, journalists, agriculturalists and statisticians among others.

Nairobi, 11 April 1997, 15:00 gmt


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Date: Fri, 11 Apr 1997 18:02:44 +0300 From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <> Subject: Great Lakes: IRIN Update 148 for 11 Apr 1997 97.4.11 Message-ID: <>

Editor: Ali Dinar,