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IRIN Emergency Update No.50 on eastern Zaire (Friday 6 December 1996)
Canadian Defence Minister Doug Young yesterday mooted the idea of scrapping military intervention by the multi-national force (MNF), saying the mass return of refugees to Rwanda all but eliminated the need for such a force. He also thought it unlikely that relief airdrops would be required. "This is an absolutely phenomenal success without military intervention," he told reporters after a cabinet meeting in Ottawa. "It doesn't look as though they [airdrops] are going to be required in any significant way because NGOs are in that area on the border between Zaire and Rwanda." He added that ways of providing humanitarian aid would have to be looked at, "but I don't think at this stage it will require any major military intervention." In Kampala, a Canadian military spokesman said politicians would meet at the weekend, probably in Ottawa, to set a date for the MNF to move aid. Relief agencies have expressed frustration over the lack of information provided by the MNF. A UNHCR spokesman in Goma, quoted by AFP, said they were expecting to meet MNF liaison officers "from one day to the next" to discuss coordination, but that "they do not appear to be in a hurry."
Aerial surveillance by the multi-national forces have found no more than 165,000 refugees on the move or displaced people in a 150km-wide swathe of North and South Kivu, Lt Gen Maurice Baril, commander of the MNF, told a meeting of humanitarian agencies in Nairobi today. Flights by British and US spotter planes - some of which had been fired upon or "painted" by anti-aircraft radar - are taking high-resolution photographs by day and thermal images by night, and had discovered only one major concentration of about 150,000 people west of Lake Kivu. Lt-Gen Baril said that the remainder are scattered in smaller groups. Locations previously reported as having large groups of refugees or displaced people (for example Mwenga and Fizi), were surveyed and no concentrations were sighted.
Baril said "we don't claim that we got them all", admitting that a group of about 30,000, thought to ex-FAR, Interahamwe and their families, had "disappeared" somewhere around Masisi. In his briefing for a group of NGOs and UN agencies at the DHA office in Nairobi, Baril said his mission was strictly humanitarian and that he had "neither the tools, nor the means, nor the intention" to affect the political or military situation.
The "Numbi" group of 150,000, in the mountains and river valleys west of lake Kivu, were the primary target for humanitarian assistance, he said, but he added that the military situation around Walikale would need to be resolved in order to get safe access to them. He also announced that Italian and French forces would join the MNF in Uganda by the weekend, and that airdrops would be considered only after a number of criteria, relating to safety, management and distribution on the ground were met. He said he would "cooperate" with the rebel authorities, but not "negotiate". Baril reminded the meeting that he was operating under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which allows the MNF to act despite protests from member states involved.
During the whole of November, US estimates (the highest available) indicate 656,500 refugees returned to Rwanda. Against a UNHCR registered caseload of 1.096 million Rwandan refugees (not including 143,000 Burundian refugees) in Zaire before the crisis, basic arithmetic suggests there should be a minimum of 439,500 remaining in Zaire. The "missing Rwandan refugees" therefore number 274,500. Given that about 60,000 Burundian refugees have returned to Burundi, their remainder in Zaire should be about 83,000. Therefore the total missing refugees may be 357,500. These calculations do not take possible Zairean displaced populations into account.
A number of explanations have been advanced for this phenomenon: the possibility that the refugees were never there in the first place - double counting and inaccurate registration frequently plague refugee operations. An attempt in September 1996 to re-count the Goma camps was suspended when refugees refused to cooperate. The last census in the Goma camps was in February 1995. However, UNHCR, in a statement today said that the population figures had been verified during a joint food assessment mission in October between UNHCR, WFP, observed by EU and USAID. The Uvira and Bukavu camps had been re-counted twice since 1994, the statement added. An over-registration rate of one third would be needed to explain away the "missing refugees". Other explanations are: the refugees are hidden in forests and houses, or have moved beyond the 150km zone. Lt Gen Baril said however, that some sorties have been flown up to 225km inside Zaire and no large groups had been picked up. The "numbers issue" remains one of the hottest political issues in the humanitarian crisis in eastern Zaire, with Rwanda, and the ADFL leader Laurent-Desire Kabila, supported in part by major donors, saying all of the non-military refugees who want to come home from Zaire have already done so, and aid agencies openly doubting the vailidity and impartiality of the survey results. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata said in a statement today, "sadly, despite our best efforts, we have not been able to locate substantial numbers of refugees and distressed people out in the forests and hills of Zaire."
The USA on Wednesday urged Kabila to stop alleged human rights abuses against refugees returning to Rwanda. "The message was essentially the following," said State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns. "The United States is deeply concerned about the allegations of political murders and human rights abuses in eastern Zaire by elements of the rebel alliance." The USA, he said, would not support "in any way, shape, or form any effort by the rebel alliance to try to create any kind of artificial state in eastern Zaire." Burns announced that the rebels had acceded to a US request to allow human rights monitors into the region. AFP cited "witnesses" as saying the mass graves of at least 80 massacred Hutu refugees had been discovered in the Goma region.
An NGO representative recently returned from Kisangani described the situation at the weekend as relatively tranquil after the local military authorities tried to disarm soldiers arriving from the front. Gunfire broke out, but the situation then calmed down. The representative said it had been possible to buy goods in Kisangani and send them on to Lubutu. He added that media reports about insecurity in Kisangani were somewhat misleading and causing a problem to aid agencies working in the area, as the local authorities accused them of passing on false information rather than helping the people. He said NGOs were hard pressed to explain they were there to render assistance. The situation in Lubutu, where there are some 25,000 displaced people, was described as serious. There was not even one tablet in the local hospital where people were said to be suffering from malaria and diarrhoea. Between 6-10 children were dying daily. After a 500km walk from Bukavu, the strongest people managed to arrive in Kisangani, others were forced to stop in Lubutu and still more very weak people are believed to be between Bukavu and Lubutu.
Reuters said that according to civilians arriving in the town of Kasindi from frontlines to the north, the rebels were advancing towards Watsa, Isiro and Kisangani. "Wherever they reach, the local population celebrates and many Zairean soldiers join their ranks," said one man from Beni. However the consensus among civilians and aid workers on the ground seemed to be that Bunia in the north was still occupied by rampaging Zairean troops. Missionaries reported that rebels had not yet entered the town but were close by, having reached some 40km south of Bunia. Looting has been reported in Bunia, and a Greek couple were killed by Zairean soldiers for refusing to open their shop to them.
Ugandan troops patrolled Kasindi, 10 kms inside Zairean territory, yesterday after driving out rebels of the Allied Democratic Force (ADF). An army commander, quoted by Reuters, said the rebellion had been "crushed" and his troops would leave in two days' time. He added however that Uganda was seeking guarantees from Zaire that rebels will not continue to launch cross-border attacks. A report on BBC radio today said some 3,000 Zairean soldiers, chased out of Beni, were trying to join up with ADF rebels.
An article in the 'New York Times' yesterday said tension was mounting in Mbuji-Mayi, capital of the mineral-rich East Kasai province, as rebels pushed ever closer towards the area, indicating the opening of a new front and a new strategy. Diplomats and aid experts point out that the quest for East Kasai lies at the heart of the rebels' economic plans. The rebels have been quick to reassure foreign mining companies, by announcing they will honour existing mining contracts, but they also intend to remove restrictions on prospecting that have limited opportunities for Zaireans.
As Tanzania issued an ultimatum for all Rwandan refugees to leave the country by the end of the year, aid workers warned that former soldiers and militiamen in the camps - who have been exhorting refugees not to return - must be separated from innocent people. UNHCR sources told Reuters the Tanzanian government had a list of 200 intimidators who might be separated prior to the repatriation deadline. Lennart Kotsalainen, deputy director of UNHCR's office in Dar es Salaam said radio broadcasts were being made to inform refugees of the departure order. The exiled Hutu organisation Rally for the Return of Refugees and Democracy in Rwanda (RDR) said returnees were being killed, arrested or were disappearing and that it was in conditions such as these that the mass return from Tanzania would take place. In a statement, issued on Wednesday, RDR again urged the international community to stop its "neverending meetings" and deploy the MNF without delay.
Canada and Rwanda are to co-chair a meeting in Kigali on December 13 and 14 to discuss relief needs for hundreds of thousands of Rwandan returnees, Canadian Minister for International Cooperation Don Boudria announced yesterday. UN agencies and NGOs will participate in the meeting, which is a follow-up to the Geneva donors' meeting on November 23. Rwanda has launched an appeal for a total $739,339,000 to resettle returnees, including the expected return from Tanzania.
Leaders meeting at the Franco-African summit in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, were moving towards a declaration calling for lifting the economic embargo against Burundi, sources close to the summit said yesterday. Meetings were held behind closed doors, but the sources, quoted by AFP, said heads of state were discussing whether to take into account the suffering of Burundi civilians caused by the sanctions. On the Great Lakes crisis, the declaration would call for an international conference on the issue, as well as for the immediate deployment of a multi-national force in eastern Zaire. Japan meanwhile today offered an emergency aid package worth 21.42 million dollars to help refugees and displaced people in eastern Zaire. The package includes 5.5 million dollars for UNHCR, 9.2 million dollars for WFP and 3.8 million dollars for ICRC.
Nairobi, 6 December 1996 15:40 gmt
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Date: Fri, 6 Dec 1996 18:41:37 +0300 From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Zaire: IRIN Update 50 on eastern Zaire for 6 Dec 96 96.12.6 Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.3.91.961206183720.1987Aemail@example.com>
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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