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IRIN Emergency Update No. 27 on Eastern Zaire (16-17 November 1996)
As thousands of people resumed their trek across the border into Rwanda this morning, doubts were cast on the need to deploy a multi-national force in Eastern Zaire to aid refugees. As of last night a human tide of some 200,000 people had crossed the border into Rwanda. UNHCR believes that as many as 300,000 more may be on the way.
The Rwandan Government and Zairean rebel leader Laurent-Desire Kabila both said on Saturday that there was no longer any need for sending an international force to Zaire. Kabila, apparent head of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, said the "job they wanted to do here has been done by us". On Thursday rebels ousted militia and former Rwandan troops from the camp of Mugunga, 15 kilometres west of Goma. This sparked off the mass exodus back to Rwanda. The US Government has said that it will continue to prepare for an international humanitarian mission to Zaire but that it will not make a final decision for several days. The European Commissioner for humanitarian aid, Emma Bonino also cast doubt on the usefulness of a multi-national force if "it could not disarm warring factions". Bonino blames "American reservations" for delaying the decision - approved by the UN Security Council on Friday - to deploy the Canadian-led force.
Canada, meanwhile, has voiced determination to proceed with the mission. "Planning continues on track", said Foreign Ministry spokesman, John Bell. He said that despite the mass return of refugees, the humanitarian crisis remained. Hundreds of thousands of people still in Zaire were stranded without food, water or shelter. Yesterday AFP reported that planes carrying 24 Canadian soldiers were held up for some hours in Kenya pending the permission of the Rwandan Government to land in Kigali. The soldiers had been deployed to install the Goma headquarters for the Canadian commander of the force, General Maurice Baril. General Baril is due to travel to Germany on Tuesday to meet other military officials involved in the mission. This morning aid agencies were struggling to cope with the sheer mass of people arriving at the border. UNHCR has described the return as the "largest and swiftest" homeward movement of refugees in memory and said that it had mobilised all available staff and resources to meet the needs of the returning refugees. Most new arrivals appear to heading towards the official transit posts in and around Gisenyi but aid workers report that streams of refugees can be seen in the hills heading directly for their former homes. The first 50 buses laid on by UNHCR were due to start ferrying people to their home villages this morning from Nkamira some 21 kilometres from the Gisenyi border crossing. Doctors treating sick children said that their biggest problem so far was diahorrhea and vomiting. A Merlin official said that many children were badly dehydrated and in a state of collapse. In Goma, relief officials said that they feared a cholera epidemic. Some 25 confirmed cases amongst refugees have now been reported from the Goma hospital.
Attempts are being made to provide high protein biscuits to the new arrivals but aid workers in Gisenyi said that distribution is difficult because of the extraordinary numbers of people. WFP announced yesterday that it would begin to distribute food rations once the refugees are back in their home communes.
The High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata said yesterday that she was delighted at the mass return. She stressed, however, that the big challenge for the international community and UNHCR was "to reintegrate returnees in conditions of security". Ogata said that UN Human Rights Field Officers would work closely with UNHCR Field Officers to monitor the returnees in their home communes. AFP has reported that observers in Gisenyi have said that they are concerned about the strain of the mass return on Rwanda's fragile political foundations.
Human Rights Watch/Africa yesterday stressed that any new camps established for refugees in Zaire must exclude anyone bearing arms, including the ex-FAR and militia. Failing to separate out armed elements, said the organisation, would simply repeat the mistakes made in 1994.
So far there has been no agreement on access to the 500,000 or so Rwandan and Burundian refugees scattered in south Kivu. Aid workers are reported today to be continuing attempts to reach them.
Renewed fighting broke out yesterday between rebels and Zairean forces around Sake northwest of Goma yesterday and there was speculation that Zairean troops may be planning a new offensive in the next few days.
Burundi's leader Pierre Buyoya said Saturday that Hutu rebels displaced by the fighting in eastern Zaire were travelling across Burundi and setting up bases in Tanzania. Buyoya said that he was concerned about the clouded relations between Burundi and Dar-es-Salaam.
Relief agencies in Burundi, meanwhile, sent food, medecines, plastic sheeting, blankets, jerrycans and water purification tablets to Cibitoke province - the scene of some of the most intense fighting in Burundi - on Saturday for the 20,000 or so Burundians who have returned to the northwest from eastern Zaire. UNHCR reported that only one refugee turned up at Gatumba transit camp near Bujumbura yesterday. Altogether some 13,500 have crossed at Gatumba and most have been resettled in their home communes. Up to 20,000 more have returned spontaneously to Cibitoke.
Nairobi, 17 November 1996, 11:15 GMT
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Date: Sun, 17 Nov 1996 14:19:20 +0300 (GMT+0300) From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Zaire: IRIN Update 27 on Eastern Zaire for 16-17 Nov 1996 96.11.17 Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.3.91.961117141852.2532Demail@example.com>
Editor: Ali Dinar, firstname.lastname@example.org