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IRIN Emergency Update No.167 on the Great Lakes (Thursday 8 May 1997)
* Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko held talks on the crisis in his country with his central African counterparts in Libreville, Gabon, today. He arrived in the city yesterday amid increasing speculation that he would not return to Kinshasa, but failed to attend a preliminary meeting of heads of state, stating he was tired. The summit brings together Mobutu and the leaders of Gabon, Togo, Equatorial Guinea, Congo, the Central African Republic and Chad, as well as Cameroon's foreign minister. Aides to Mobutu insist that the president will return to Zaire tomorrow.
* Zairean troops appeared to be putting up some resistance as rebels from the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) advanced towards Kinshasa. Fierce fighting has been raging in the Kenge area, some 200 kms east of Kinshasa, with reported heavy loss of life. Ten Zairean Red Cross workers were among the dead. An ICRC press release said they were killed as they were assisting people wounded in the clashes. Two hundred civilians have been killed, and 126 wounded have been admitted to hospital. One hundred Zairean soldiers were also reported killed. There have been no numbers for rebel casualties, but planes have reportedly been sent from Lubumbashi to collect the wounded. The rebels now say they are in control of Kenge.
Besides Kenge, the rebels are also closing in on Kinshasa from southern and northeast fronts. AFP cited informed sources as saying the town of Bandundu, 400 kms northeast of Kinshasa, fell to the ADFL without a fight yesterday. Further north, the rebels were said to be pressing on towards Businga, some 100 kms northwest of Lisala, Mobutu's birthplace, which is already under rebel control.
Rebel radio, broadcasting from Bunia, today announced Kinshasa was caught in pincer movement between Mbaza-Ngungu, 120 kms south of Kinshasa, and Kenge. A senior military ADFL official described the fighting between Kinshasa and Kenge as "skirmishes" and said "in no way" would it halt the rebel advance. "The ADFL calls on the Zairean armed forces to surrender if they do not wish to go through the nightmare which has by now become commonplace," the radio warned.
* France joined the number of foreign missions scaling down their personnel in Kinshasa. Foreign ministry spokesman Jacques Rummelhardt said yesterday France had been gradually reducing its staff in Kinshasa "to the minimum needed". He added that because of the crisis, the embassy staff could not be "reduced to nothing".
South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki meanwhile arrived in Dar-es-Salaam last night and discussed the Zaire crisis with President Benjamin Mkapa today. Diplomatic sources, quoted by AFP, said the talks were expected to focus on ways of bringing about a peaceful transfer of power in the country. According to rebel radio, Mbeki would go to Lubumbashi tomorrow for talks with Kabila. Yesterday, Mbeki met Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos in Luanda.
* A mini cabinet reshuffle, decreed by President Mobutu on Tuesday, brought in a new finance minister to replace Aba Mashigiro who was dismissed for "serious dereliction of duty", Zairean radio reported. The new man was named as Kasereka Kasay, a member of Mobutu's MPR party.
* The Zairean government today expelled five foreign journalists from Kinshasa accusing them of "belonging to the enemy camp". Information Minister Kin-Kiey Mulumba told a news conference in the capital that they had "infiltrated the country" to spread disinformation.
* Angola again rejected allegations it was providing assistance to the ADFL. A press release issued by the president's office, and broadcast by Angolan radio yesterday, denied what it said were South African reports that President dos Santos had urged the rebels to march on Kinshasa instead of opting for a negotiated settlement. It also denied that Angolan soldiers would be involved in an attack against Kinshasa and described such reports as "aimed at creating confusion" over Angola's role in the Zaire conflict.
* In eastern Zaire, the repatriation of Rwandan refugees from Kisangani continued. Over 10,000 people had been airlifted back to Rwanda up to yesterday since the operation began late last month. Refugees arriving at the Runda transit camp west of Kigali were said to be in relatively good shape. Most of them move on to their home communes within a day, in compliance with a Rwandan government request. Belgium meanwhile urged the EU to take urgent action to ensure the repatriation was conducted in secure conditions.
Refugees arriving in Kisangani yesterday from Biaro camp south of the city told AFP that "Kinyarwanda-speaking" fighters had killed about 100 men from their group. The refugees also said they had seen "many corpses" of refugees in the jungle. The group of 150 people said they had fled Kasese camp last month, alleging refugees were coming under gunfire. One refugee claimed there had been much bloodshed around Biaro in the period when aid workers and journalists were denied access to the area.
Aid workers in western Zaire began distributing food aid to some 50,000 refugees in the Mbandaka area. WFP had stocked maize on barges in the region, originally meant for the Kisangani refugees, but which could not proceed to the city because of the security situation. According to WFP, looters tried to steal the food on Tuesday but the barges were moved further along the river to a more secure place. The Rwandans, many of whom are said to be starving and exhausted, include large numbers of ex-FAR/Interahamwe.
An article in the Zairean daily 'Les Palmares' on Tuesday said ex-FAR/Interahamwe members were "sowing terror" in the Basankusu area, northwest of Mbandaka. Citing local missionary sources, the newspaper said they were conducting looting sprees alongside fleeing FAZ troops. The Catholic missions at Befale and Waka were systematically pillaged. The ex-FAZ soldiers reportedly arrived on stolen motorbikes and in other vehicles. Local businessmen were taking refuge in the forests and had stopped their trips to Kinshasa to sell coffee for fear of ambushes along the road, the paper reported.
* Zaire's rail network ground to a halt after the ADFL took over the Sizarail railway company, and confiscated its 60 million dollars' worth of assets. The company was jointly owned by Spoornet of South Africa and Transurb of Belgium. On Tuesday, managing director Patrick Claes of Belgium was replaced by a Zairean national and given 24 hours to leave Lubumbashi. Reports from the town said the rebels had nationalised the company and renamed it the National Railways of the Congo.
* Another mine blast in Burundi on May 1 claimed the life of a Swiss nun and her driver. The anti-tank device exploded on a dirt road near Kabezi, about 15 kms south of Bujumbura. The explosion was the 12th in or near the capital since March.
* On the refugee situation, UNHCR said it had noted a drop in the number of Burundians returning spontaneously from western Tanzania to Muyinga in northern Burundi. It attributed this to rising security incidents in the province. Humanitarian agencies suspect that Burundi rebel groups or sympathisers based in Tanzania are launching cross-border attacks as part of a campaign to discourage returnees. In one incident last month, the Buhangara returnee site was attacked in which 30 shelters were burnt and at least two returnees killed.
WHO reported that Burundi was suffering from the worst outbreak of typhus since World War II. Over 20,000 cases were reported between January and March this year in Ngozi, Muramvya and Kayanza provinces. The WHO report said mortality rates were difficult to establish but they were estimated at between one and 20 percent. According to WHO, the disease had now been detected in Mutambu commune of Bujumbura Rural.
UN officials report severe malnutrition in Bubanza province, saying up to 20 percent of recently admitted hospital cases were adults who had emerged from forests and marshes where they had been languishing for up to three years. Malnutrition cases had occupied so many beds in local hospitals that admissions of standard patients had been practically suspended.
* Burundi mediator, former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, was today due to chair a meeting in Dar-es-Salaam between the main Hutu-dominated political party FRODEBU and extremist rebels of the National Council for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD). The two sides would be represented by their leaders, Jean Minani and Leonard Nyangoma respectively. Observers from the UN, EU, Canada, South Africa and Belgium were expected to attend the meeting. Details of the agenda have not been disclosed.
* Sudanese press reports today claimed government forces killed 12 rebels in an attack against rebel positions in southeast Sudan. The independent 'Akhbar al-Youm' said army forces, joined by militiamen, attacked SPLA positions some 65 kms south of Juba on Tuesday. According to the newspaper report, three rocket launchers and a T-55 tank were destroyed.
Sudan will enjoy a bumper wheat harvest in 1996/97, estimated at 650,000 tonnes, according to a recent FAO/GIEWS crop and food supply report (30.4.97). According to the report, the predicted harvest is due to a combination of government policy encouraging wheat production and below average temperatures for mid-January to March which favoured the crop. Sorghum, Sudan's first crop, is also expected to produce a record harvest at 4.2 million tonnes, while millet production is estimated at 440,000 tonnes. FAO warns, however, that the food supply situation in certain provinces and states "remains highly precarious". This is particularly the case in Darfur, Kordofan, Red Sea State and the South as a whole.
Nairobi, 8 May 1997, 15:15 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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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: Fri, 9 May 1997 09:10:53 +0300 From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <email@example.com> Subject: Great Lakes: IRIN Update 167 for 8 May 1997 97.5.8 Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.3.91.970508181516.4807A@dha.unon.org>
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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