UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
U N I T E D N A T I O N S Department of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network for the Great Lakes
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IRIN Emergency Update No.163 on the Great Lakes (Friday 02 May 1997)
* After much confusion over the last two days, the elusive meeting between Zairean rebel leader Laurent-Desire Kabila and President Mobutu Sese Seko appeared to be in sight. Mobutu arrived in the Congolese port of Pointe-Noire today, where he was due to board a South African navy vessel which is to serve as a venue for the meeting. However, the talks again ran into delay after Mobutu, who is recovering from cancer surgery, declined to be taken out to the boat by helicopter. Doctors said the vibrations would be bad for his health. Some reports had said Mobutu and Kabila would meet tomorrow and the rebels indicated they would prefer the meeting to take place on Sunday. South African President Nelson Mandela, who will chair the talks, arrived in Pointe-Noire today, stressing the importance of the occasion. Mobutu has also invited Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema to attend.
Expectations that the talks would take place rose after Kabila left Lubumbashi for the Angolan capital Luanda, lately the scene of heightened diplomatic activity. Kabila was due to meet South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki in Luanda, after which the two men would head off to join the vessel. Other South African officials were also present in Luanda, along with US envoy to the UN Bill Richardson, currently on a troubleshooting mission in the region. The joint UN-OAU Special Representative for the Great Lakes region, Mohamed Sahnoun, was also in Luanda.
* Despite all the political manoeuvring, Kabila vowed his rebels from the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) would march on to Kinshasa. Speaking in the Zimbabwean capital Harare yesterday, ahead of his visit to Angola, he said Kinshasa must be "liberated". "I think we must go forward", he told the ZIANA news agency after meeting President Robert Mugabe. However he added that discussions were under way "to try and solve the problem by peaceful means." Any talks with Mobutu, he said, would revolve around a peaceful transfer of power. Kabila arrived in Harare unannounced yesterday. Zimbabwe has consistently denied reports of providing military aid to the rebels.
In Lubumbashi, rebel foreign affairs spokesman Bizima Karaha reiterated that any negotiations would focus on Mobutu's departure. "It is very important that he comes for that," Karaha stated. The Alliance, he added, would allow a time-frame for the Zairean leader to step down. However, there would be no discussion of a ceasefire. "A ceasefire would mean that our people will lose much after their sacrifices," he said. He added that the Alliance would prefer for the meeting to takeplace on Sunday, but conceded the rebels could be "flexible".
* Residents of towns en route to Kinshasa from Kikwit claimed Zairean soldiers were retreating ahead of the rebel advance. Inhabitants of Kenge, some 200 kms from the capital, told Reuters the town was calm in anticipation of the rebels' arrival. However a Zairean defence ministry spokesman denied the reports, saying troops had regrouped for a counter-offensive. The rebels estimate they will be in Kinshasa in two weeks' time. Meanwhile a Catholic priest in Kinshasa told AFP that Mobutu's birthplace, Lisala, some 1000 kms northwest of the capital towards the Central African Republic, had fallen to the rebels. The government has not commented on the claim.
* The 'New York Times' daily today claimed the French government secretly sent combat aircraft and mercenaires to Zaire to support Mobutu's regime. Quoting US intelligence reports, it said the operation began in early January, but it was unclear whether it was still continuing. The French government has denied any military involvement in Zaire.
* The repatriation of Rwandan refugees from Kisangani gained momentum yesterday as 1,512 people were returned to Kigali and Cyangugu on board eight UN planes. A total of 1,802 refugees have been airlifted since April 27, UNHCR said, and more were due to travel today. It added that despite the unexpected arrival of hundreds of refugees in Kisangani, placed on trains from Biaro further south by the rebels, aid agencies rallied round to quickly transfer them to the transit centre in Kisangani. As of yesterday, some 800 refugees remained at the centre whose capacity will be expanded to cater for up to 5,000 people. UNHCR said some 30,000 refugees had now emerged from the forests south of Kisangani and were gathered at Biaro. More were said to be on their way to Biaro.
Rwanda yesterday accused the UN of delaying the repatriation exercise and offered to conduct the repatriation itself, along with the ADFL. A statement signed by Ephraim Kabaija chairman of Rwanda's repatriation commission said the government "is prepared to work in collaboration with the ADFL to undertake the repatriation". International assistance would be needed to finance airlifts. Interested parties, such as the UNHCR, were invited to observe the operation. The statement declared that the rebels were "doing all that is possible to locate the refugees and facilitate their repatriation". UNHCR today rejected the criticism, saying its effort to repatriate the refugees had been blocked by the authorities "from day one".
* It has been confirmed that 62 Rwandan refugees, who were handed over to humanitarian workers in Bukavu by the ADFL yesterday, were among those abducted by armed men from a hospital near the town on Saturday. They included 52 children who, according to UNICEF, were in "pretty bad condition". UNHCR said it had been told by the children that they were kept in a container for three days without food and water. The fate of other adults taken away with the children was not known, but observers point out that the targets of the abduction may have been adult ex-FAR/Interahamwe members.
* Large numbers of Rwandan refugees are reported to be heading for Mbandaka, about 500 kms northwest of Kinshasa. On Monday, IRIN quoted humanitarian sources as saying over 35,000 refugees were in the Ingende-Boende area. Many of them are reportedly in bad shape and very hungry. Local authorities are trying to dissuade them from going to Mbandaka for security reasons and move them instead to Irebu, on the border with Congo. The refugee groups are said to comprise a number of armed men, probably ex-FAR/Interahamwe members and tension in the region is reportedly very high. In a bid to pre-empt any incidents, the local governor has issued an appeal for assistance and for the evacuation of refugees, pledging that the security of personnel and goods will be ensured.
* UNHCR has expressed concern over the Tanzanian authorities' handling of Rwandan refugees in the country. It accuses Tanzania of rounding up newly arrived asylum seekers, who claim rising insecurity in their home communes, and subjecting them to systematic refoulement. UNHCR said over 200 Rwandans were sent home early last month, after being rounded up in the Lukole camp where they were trying to hide among Burundian refugees for fear of being returned to Rwanda. It urged the Tanzanian government to ensure all asylum-seekers were given the chance to present their claims in accordance with established procedures.
* Rwandan radio today said 19 people, suspected of taking part in the murder of schoolgirls in northwest Rwanda, have been killed by the security forces over the last two days. According to the radio, they were part of a 150-member group made up of ex-FAR members. The 19 were captured in various areas thanks to information from the local population. The schoolgirls were among 22 people massacred in Gisenyi prefecture when armed men burst into the school in Muramba and ordered them to separate according to their ethnic origin. The Rwandan authorities say there have been several similar attacks of late, in which victims have been ordered to identify their ethnicity.
* Six southern Sudanese rebel factions have signed an accord recognising Riak Machar, head of the Southern Sudan Independence Movement (SSIM), as their overall leader, the 'Kenya Times' reported today. The factions said the move was aimed at recognising the southern Sudan people's yearning for unity. Last month, four rebel factions signed a peace deal with the Sudanese government of President Omar Bashir.
Nairobi, 2 May 1997, 15:30 gmt [ENDS]
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Date: Fri, 2 May 1997 18:19:02 +0300 From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Great Lakes: IRIN Update 163 for 2 May 1997 97.5.2 Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.3.91.970502181609.30938Aemail@example.com>
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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