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IRIN Update No. 486 for Central and Eastern Africa (Monday 24 August 1998)
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Setbacks and gains for the rebels
Rebel fighters of the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) apparently suffered setbacks on their western front, while reportedly making gains on the eastern front. The rebels admitted they had lost the western military base of Kitona after intervention by Zimbabwe and Angola in support of President Laurent-Desire Kabila. But a key member of the rebellion Bizima Karaha, quoted by Rwandan radio today (Monday) described the pullout from Kitona as a "tactical withdrawal". DRC government spokesman Didier Mumengi, in comments to AFP today, claimed the western towns of Muanda, Banana and Boma were back in government hands.
Bukavu radio yesterday (Sunday) announced that the rebels were pushing on towards Kinshasa, saying they had reached Kasanagulu, some 30 km south of the capital. The radio also confirmed the arrival of Angolan troops on the government side, entering DRC via the Cabinda enclave.
In the east the rebels announced the capture of DRC's third city, Kisangani, over the weekend. Rebel-controlled Radio Candip, broadcasting from Bunia, said the town fell yesterday. The radio added, however, that a negotiated settlement to the conflict was "preferable". Sources close to the RCD told IRIN the rebellion had been in the planning stages since early this year, as disenchantment with Kabila grew both inside and outside the country.
SADC calls for immediate ceasefire
A southern African regional summit yesterday called for an immediate ceasefire and peace talks in the DRC. The meeting, convened by South African President Nelson Mandela, urged both sides to freeze their military positions. However, the DRC government representative at the talks, Justice Minister Mwenze Kongolo, told Belgian RTBF radio that a ceasefire would be conditional on the withdrawal of Rwandan and Ugandan troops, Reuters reported.
The summit communique expressed its support for Kabila. But it called for an "all-inclusive national conference for all Congolese" and a "transitional government to lead the country to democratic elections" to be held "in a reasonable period of time," news agencies reported. The meeting mandated Mandela to organise the ceasefire in consultation with OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim, the South African news agency SAPA said. The initiative would "harmonise" with the Victoria Falls process in which Zimbabwe won backing for military support for Kabila from some Southern African Development Community (SADC) members. Mandela, as SADC chairman, said: "We have no worries at all that what we have decided here is not going to be supported by the entire region." An official response to yesterday's meeting is still awaited from Kabila. He was reportedly too sick to attend the meeting.
Proposals emerge from mini-summit
Eleven SADC heads of state were joined in Pretoria by Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda's Pasteur Bizimungu and Daniel arap Moi of Kenya. The peace proposals emerged from a Mandela-chaired mini-summit on Saturday involving Museveni, Bizimungu and Kabila's representative Kongolo, AFP said. The rival parties reportedly did not meet face to face but exchanged notes.
Angola and Zimbabwe boycott
Noticeably absent from the SADC summit were the presidents of Angola and Zimbabwe. Both countries have troops fighting in the DRC. Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's spokesman said yesterday a decision to intervene militarily was taken by SADC defence ministers in Harare last week, "and that decision is being implemented," SAPA reported. Zimbabwe was represented at the South African talks by its high commissioner. Mandela said absences were "not unusual" at summits called at such short notice.
Pretoria calls on Angola to sign up for initiative
Regional sources told IRIN that Mandela and Deputy President Thabo Mbeki telephoned Angolan leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos last night and urged him to support the South African initiative. They stressed that the alternative to a diplomatic solution risked dividing the region. Angola however had come under "heavy pressure from Mugabe" to back intervention, analysts said. Dos Santos was reportedly swayed by the argument that the rebels would not be able to unify the DRC and a balkanised Congo would benefit UNITA, the analysts added. An AFP dispatch yesterday said at least four Angolan fighter-bombers were seen on the runway at Kinshasa airport.
More Zimbabwean equipment arrives in Kinshasa
Meanwhile, defence analysts in Harare told IRIN Zimbabwe has stepped up its support for Kabila. On Sunday, a column of Brazilian-made armoured cars mounted with 90mm guns were seen entering the airport and are believed to have been airlifted to Kinshasa. There were also unconfirmed reports that Zimbabwean troops in jeeps have deployed outside Kinshasa in apparent preparation for an ambush against advancing rebels.
Tanzanian troops sent home
South Africa has provided transport planes to evacuate Tanzanian military instructors in the DRC ordered home by President Benjamin Mkapa. SAPA reported that two South African 707s had landed in Kinshasa yesterday. A Tanzanian government statement said 600 soldiers and 200 police training the DRC government's security forces were being pulled out to avoid being drawn into the Congo conflict, Reuters added.
Mozambique wants SADC backing for intervention
Mozambique's Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi said on Saturday that troops would not be sent to the DRC without SADC and OAU backing, PANA reported. He said "without direct coordination with other countries" Mozambique "has got no individual initiative to send a military force." Mozambique's defence minister attended last week's meeting in Harare at which the defence chiefs agreed military intervention.
Rwanda, Uganda warn they may take measures
On Friday, the Rwandan government said it "reserved the right to get involved" in the conflict. In a statment, it described Kabila's accusation of a Rwandan invasion as a "malicious and gratuitous lie". The statement urged an immediate ceasefire in DRC, stressing that stability in that country benefited not only Congo, but also its neighbours including Rwanda. It expressed regret over the decision by some SADC members to support Kabila militarily which "can only serve narrow interests of the leaders spearheading the intervention". "Rwanda, therefore, reserves the right to get involved and to assist the Congolese people in their search for a lasting solution in whatever manner it deems appropriate," the statement warned.
In a similar vein, President Yoweri Museveni on Saturday said Uganda "if unilateral intervention intensifies, may be forced...to take its own independent action in the protection of its own security interests". A press release from State House said the president noted that "consensus has not yet emerged" in the region. Appealing for restraint, Museveni pointed out Uganda wanted to stop Congo-based insurgencies against its territory. The statement added that Uganda's involvement in DRC was restricted to the presence of two army battalions in Congo to combat rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), and this had been agreed with Kabila's government.
Tshisekedi urges end to fighting
Veteran Congolese opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, breaking his silence about the conflict, has called for an immediate end to the fighting, Radio France Internationale reported yesterday. Tshisekedi, who leads the Union pour la democratie et le progres social (UDPS), said he had spoken to both sides in the conflict, and urged the international community to support his mission of mediation, the radio reported. Meanwhile, the radio added that another opposition leader Arthur Z'ahidi Ngoma was yesterday appointed deputy chairman of the RCD.
Growing numbers of refugees flee fighting
On the humanitarian front, aid workers report growing numbers of refugees fleeing the fighting in DRC. UNHCR said it had come across a group of 126 Congolese refugees in Angola, but they were apparently crossing at random points along the border and some were staying with friends so exact numbers were unclear. By Friday, 547 Congolese refugees had been registered in Tanzania's Kigoma region, and 2,700 had arrived in Burundi since the start of the fighting on 2 August. UNHCR said it had sent extra staff to Brazzaville in view of a possible influx of refugees from Kinshasa.
Nairobi, 24 August 1998, 14:15 gmt
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Date: Mon, 24 Aug 1998 17:06:28 +0300 (GMT+0300) From: IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <email@example.com> Subject: Central and Eastern Africa: IRIN Update 486 for 24 Aug 1998.8.24 Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.firstname.lastname@example.org>
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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