IRIN Update 528 for 21 Oct 1998

IRIN Update 528 for 21 Oct 1998

U N I T E D N A T I O N S Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network for Central and Eastern Africa

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IRIN Update No. 528 Central and Eastern Africa (Wednesday 21 October 1998)

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Pro-Kabila allies to launch eastern offensive

President Laurent-Desire Kabila failed to turn up for a mini-summit in Zimbabwe today (Wednesday), news reports said. Pro-Kabila leaders - Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola and Sam Nujoma of Namibia - met in Harare to discuss a military strategy for DRC. However, Kabila's Presidential Affairs Minister Victor Pierre Mpoyo turned up to represent the DRC, saying the president was unwell. Last night, Kabila had reportedly confirmed he would be attending the meeting. News organisations quoted Mugabe as saying after the talks that the allies would launch an offensive against the rebel-held eastern DRC.

New OAU peace bid

Defence and foreign ministers from 11 African countries are scheduled to meet in Lusaka, Zambia, on Sunday as part of renewed OAU attempts to resolve the DRC conflict, news agencies reported yesterday. The countries slated to attend Sunday's talks are Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, Rwanda, DRC, South Africa, Gabon, Tanzania and Mozambique, news agencies said. The last OAU-sponsored talks, held in Ethiopia last month, ended inconclusively.

Meanwhile, Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa travelled to the Zimbabwean capital Harare yesterday to brief Mugabe on the DRC peace proposals made by the leaders of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda during their meeting in Nairobi on 18 October, news agencies said.

Supplies looted amid looming "disaster"

At least US $800,000 worth of UNICEF relief supplies and equipment has been looted by DRC rebels since August, UNICEF Representative Ibrahim Jabr told IRIN. Among the stolen supplies were essential drugs, food for malnourished children, vehicles, office equipment and other items from the UNICEF offices in Bukavu, Uvira and Kisangani in eastern DRC as well as from its Boma office in the western province of Bas-Congo when that area was under rebel control, Jabr said. In Bukavu, looting of the remaining UNICEF supplies is continuing under the direction of a rebel military commander who has changed the padlocks on the agency's warehouse and is driving a looted UNICEF vehicle, Jabr said, adding that much of the stolen items are being sold on Bukavu's markets.

The return of looted property is one of the conditions recently agreed upon with the rebel movement for the resumption of UN agency activities in eastern DRC, Jabr noted. Meanwhile, the deterioration of already-poor nutritional conditions, lack of water-treatment chemicals and shortages of drugs in the east constitute a "recipe for disaster" for children and other vulnerable groups, Jabr said.

Uvira population in need of healthcare

Humanitarian sources told IRIN today the local population in the Uvira region of South Kivu urgently need health and nutritional assistance, because health facilities have been totally or partially looted. Other reports say that food supplies are rapidly diminishing and there is a lack of seeds for the planting season, which has just started.

The sources also said all displaced ethnic Tutsis, who had sought refuge in Kalemie, have been transfered to Uvira. They added that several hundred have been moved to the Ruzizi plain for resettlement, but the majority are accommodated in a school and the town's cotton factory.

Crisis threatens polio-eradication goal

The postponement of DRC's national polio vaccination campaign on account of the outbreak of conflict in August was a "serious setback" to worldwide efforts to eradicate the disease by the year 2000, a WHO spokesperson in Geneva told IRIN. While the rest of Africa is moving forward, the DRC remains one of the world's major reservoirs of polio, he said. Polio viruses now detected in southern and eastern Africa all originate in the DRC, he said. The DRC is one of only three African countries that have not conducted at least one round of national polio campaigns. The other two, Sierra Leone and Liberia, are both planning campaigns by the end of the year, the spokesperson said.

UNICEF's Ibrahim Jabr, meanwhile, said that the DRC government has rescheduled the national polio campaign to start in December. The campaign will cover the entire country, but not all at once, he said, adding that negotiations would be undertaken to ensure that children in any rebel-held areas are also covered. The campaign will target about 10 million children under five years of age in the country.

UNICEF launches Bas-Congo programme

UNICEF has launched an emergency programme in Bas-Congo to help restore basic services at 135 health centres and 118 maternity centres in Lukaya district, a UNICEF spokesperson told IRIN today. Some 30 mt of drugs and medical supplies will be distributed to the centres to benefit an estimated 630,000 people. Bas-Congo was affected by looting and conflict in August.

Gold, diamond monopoly cancelled

The DRC has cancelled plans to set up a state monopoly for gold and diamond trading, AFP reported yesterday. It quoted central bank governor Jean-Claude Masangu as saying "the free-market option regarding the sale and purchase of precious materials is maintained". Last month, the government announced the creation of SASMIP, a central trading department for precious materials, to strengthen its control over the gold and diamond trade.

Bank stops printing money

Meanwhile, Masangu announced yesterday that the central bank would stop printing money in an attempt to stop the slide of the Congolese franc, news agencies said. Masangu told AFP the value of the franc had fallen by 64 percent since August on account of the war and its impact, while the inflation rate was now 81 percent, up from 7.3 percent in June. The Congolese franc was introduced by the Kabila government on 30 June, to replace the old Zaire currency. The government has also ordered a cut in fuel prices to ease rising transport costs, Reuters quoted state media as saying today.

Finance Minister sacked for alleged mismanagement

DRC Finance Minister Fernand Tala Ngai, whose dismissal was announced by the government yesterday, was reportedly arrested for mismanaging public funds, Radio France Internationale said. It said rumours were also circulating in Kinshasa about his purported links with the rebels. In August, he was questioned by the security services about his ties to ex-foreign minister Bizima Karaha who is now a leading member of the RCD.

RWANDA: Washington embassy warns of "second genocide"

The Rwandan embassy in Washington has warned of a "second genocide" unfolding in the Great Lakes region and urged the international community to act before it is too late. In a press release, received by IRIN, the embassy said the world's silence over the conflict in DRC "reflects the double-standard that is by now all too familiar in Africa". "While photojournalists find their way to the battlefront to photograph Kosovo Albanians, the visual account of what is happening right now in the eastern DRC remains unseen," the statement said. It urged the international community to pressure all parties to the conflict to agree to the Pretoria framework for a negotiated settlement of the crisis. It also called for a ceasefire, brokered by a neutral third party.

Genocide survivors' fund created

Rwanda's national assembly yesterday approved new legislation creating a national fund to assist survivors of the genocide and of massacres committed between 1990 and 1994, Rwandan radio, monitored by the BBC, reported. The fund will be made up of contributions from the government, donor countries, the private sector and money paid in connection with genocide court cases, it said.

BURUNDI: Arusha talks to end early

The peace talks, currently underway in Arusha, are due to end next Thursday (29 October), ahead of schedule, according to the independent Hirondelle news agency. It quoted Hashim Mbita, a spokesman for the Nyerere Foundation, who said the mediator Julius Nyerere had decided on the early conclusion of the talks. Observers told Hirondelle the move was due to lack of funds. The money available apparently only covers 10 days of talks instead of the envisaged three weeks. Hirondelle said the Foundation had received promises of financing totalling US $728,000 for the third round of talks. Much of the money has gone towards accommodation, transport and the secretariat, it added.

CONGO-BRAZZAVILLE: Food airlifted to capital

The government this week started airlifting food from the southern port city of Pointe-Noire to the capital Brazzaville in response to food shortages caused by inaccessible roads and the suspension of rail traffic, Reuters said yesterday. Train traffic between the two cities was suspended in late September due to insecurity in the Pool region south of Brazzaville. Humanitarian sources in Brazzaville told IRIN last week the capital was facing food and fuel shortages and a sharp increase in the price of basic goods.

AFRICA: Environment ministers meeting in Nairobi

Ministers and government officials from across Africa are meeting this week in Nairobi to discuss environmental issues ahead of several international conferences scheduled later this year, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a statement received by IRIN today. The meeting, convened by UNEP with German government funding, will cover such issues as ozone depletion, biodiversity, desertification and the continent's response to climate change. UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said it provided a "unique opportunity" for African environment ministers to consult with each other and better prepare for upcoming inter-governmental meetings, such as the UN Climate Change Conference scheduled for November in Argentina.

Nairobi, 21 October 1998, 15:00 gmt


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Date: Wed, 21 Oct 1998 17:55:42 +0300 (GMT+0300) From: IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <> Subject: Central and Eastern Africa: IRIN Update 528 for 21 Oct 1998.10.21 Message-ID: <>

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar,