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IRIN Emergency Update No.60 on the Great Lakes (Tuesday 17 December 1996)
A regional summit in Nairobi to discuss the situation in the Great Lakes ended late last night and called on the warring sides in eastern Zaire to resolve the conflict through peace negotiations. The meeting also stressed that boundaries inherited at independence should be respected and a stop should be put to cross-border incursions. A communique - issued by the leaders of Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Zambia, Eritrea, South Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ethiopia - said the summit had reviewed developments in the region and noted the "easing" of the refugee problem in eastern Zaire. However, the security situation had deteriorated since last month's Nairobi summit, the communique pointed out. Summit participants urged the international community to provide "substantial assistance" to Rwandan returnees and encourage bona fide refugees still in Zaire and Tanzania to return home. The presidents of Kenya, Zimbabawe, South Africa and Cameroon, which is the current OAU chairman, were entrusted with taking necessary initiatives on behalf of the other countries.
President Moi of Kenya described the absence of Zaire at the summit as "regrettable", but Zairean Foreign Minister Jean-Marie Kititwa, speaking on Radio France Internationale, said his country would "not eat the food which the others have put into President Moi's saucepan." The summit however welcomed assurances by President Mobutu that Zaire "recognises the inalienable right to citizenship and nationality of all people within its internationally recognised boundaries." According to the communique, this assurance was seen as a significant step in the search for a lasting solution to the crisis. Burundi was not invited to the meeting.
President Mobutu arrived home to a tumultuous welcome today as tens of thousands of people packed the airport to greet him. State radio had earlier urged the people to turn out in force for his return. A BBC reporter said he looked to be in good health. The president is due to address the nation on state radio and television tonight.
As of last night, 107,000 refugees crossed into Rwanda from camps in Ngara, northwest Tanzania, and a UNHCR spokesperson, speaking on BBC radio, said about 50,000 had crossed over today. The spokesperson said a steady stream was crossing the border, but the exodus had been slowed down by heavy rain. A shuttle truck is operating between various points in Rwanda - Nyakarambi, Birenga, Kibungo, Kayonze - enabling most refugees to be transported for at least part of the journey. It has also been possible to transport some refugees directly to the northeast prefectures of Byumba and Mutara. Some 70 percent of the refugees are from Kibungo prefecture which borders Tanzania with most of the others coming from Byumba, Mutara and Butare. UNHCR expects to have 284 trucks and 14 minibuses available today. As of yesterday, news reports out of Tanzania said refugees on that side of the border were backed up more than 10kms. Some reports said a group of 100,000 refugees was possibly heading for an ex-FAR/Interahamwe training camp, thought to be in northern Malawi. Some of the returning refugees told reporters they had been forced to leave the camps against their will by aid agencies and Tanzanian troops. Some 68,000 Burundian refugees are still remaining in Kitali Hills camp where NGOs have been allowed to continue their work.
UN staff reported that refugees crossing the border were in a relatively good condition, considering they had already walked a distance of some 100km before reaching Rwanda. Many left their camps last week to go further into Tanzania, only to be returned to the camps and then begin the march back to Rwanda. WFP said most of the returnees also appeared to be in a good nutritional state as many of them had recently received two-week food rations. However many children were said to be in poor condition.
Information on the situation in the Karagwe camps, north of Ngara, has been sketchy. USAID yesterday reported that some 90-100,000 of the estimated 124,000 refugees were still in the camps while about 30,000 were roaming around the countryside. Some of these were said to moved southeasat to the Burigi game reserve, others [as reported by IRIN yesterday] had crossed into Uganda and still more had moved east towards Bukoba. According to USAID, efforts are underway to repatriate those remaining in the camps. Reports by a UN mission in Karagwe seemed to confirm this information, but said numbers of refugees outside the camps were put at anything between 20,000-60,000. Some of the refugees were attempting to cross the swamps in a bid to return to Rwanda that way. A group of refugees trying to reach Uganda was blocked by the Tanzanian authorities and trucked back to the camps.
The Karagwe refugees may be on the move tomorrow when UNHCR is planning to make trucks available in the Kagenyi and Rubwera camps for onward transportation to the Rusumo crossing. However there are insufficient trucks for the entire population of the camps, and many refugees are expected to make the long journey to the border crossing on foot - an estimated journey of four days. Preparations are underway to set up water stations along the main road from Karagwe to Benaco. The last food distribution - consisting mainly of corn meal - is scheduled for tomorrow, after which only four NGOs will be allowed to operate in the camps.
Rwandan Vice-President Paul Kagame met Ugandan President Museveni in Kamapla yesterday to discuss the mass return of refugees to Rwanda. A report on Rwandan radio today said the two men also discussed the economic embargo against Burundi and the situation in eastern Zaire.
ICRC said 15,000 new arrivals had been registered in Shabunda, eastern Zaire, over the weekend, bringing the total number of refugees to 38,000. Ten percent of them are Burundian, and Rwandan Hutu extremists have also been sighted. The refugees are reportedly setting themselves up in Shabunda with a view to staying put. At Tinga-Tinga, near Lubutu, between 50,000 and 100,000 mostly Rwandan refugees have been sighted, UN sources in Kinshasa said. They are organising themselves into camps, comprising internal structures, as was the case in Goma. Access to refugees in the Walikale area is practically impossible. Fighting has been reported on the outskirts of Walikale between ex-FAR/Interahamwe and rebel forces.
UNHCR announced it was sending a team to look into reports that 100,000-150,000 people had converged on Shabunda and that over 100,000 refugees and displaced people were sheltering in Lubutu. It said it would seek ways of moving the refugees towards Rwanda.
The situation in Burundi's Karuzi province is reported to be very volatile as the authorities continue a campaign to regroup people into camps. Many of these people are reported to come from locations considered to be sympathetic to the Hutu rebel cause, and if they refuse to enter the camps they will be considered as hostile elements. The Burundi government says the camps, which may be created in other provinces, are a way of protecting the civilian population from rebel activity. Basic services in Karuzi are described as sub-standard.
UNHCR said about 300 Ugandan refugees were set to leave Kenya tonight after over a decade of exile. A five-bus convoy, escorted by UNHCR staff, was due to arrive in the southeast Ugandan town of Mbale at dawn tomorrow from where the refugees would make their own onward travel arrangements. The refugees were being trucked from Nairobi and the Kakuma refugee camp.
Nairobi, 17 December 1996, 15:30 gmt [ENDS]
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Date: Tue, 17 Dec 1996 18:54:35 +0300 From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Great Lakes: IRIN Update 60 for 17 Dec 1996 96.12.17 Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.3.91.961217184716.14462Aemail@example.com>
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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