IRIN Update 612 for 18 Feb 1999

IRIN Update 612 for 18 Feb 1999

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. 612 for Central and Eastern Africa (Thursday 18 February 1999)

ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: Diplomats fly in

A three-person EU-troika team led by German Foreign Minister Ludger Volmer is due to arrive in Addis Ababa tonight (Thursday night), and continue to Asmara on Saturday, well-placed diplomatic sources told IRIN. The other two members of the mission represent Austria and Finland. The EU team is to "try and get a ceasefire", an EU diplomat told IRIN. An OAU committee of ambassadors is also being sent to both countries to convey a message of "grave concern" and a call for an "immediate end to the fighting", PANA reported. Conclusive proof of battlefield claims and counter-claims is impossible, journalists say, but Eritrea said the three fronts were quiet today. Claims of battlefield advances and retreats represent movement of only a few kilometres on the Badme, Tsorona and Bure (Assab) fronts.

Civilian detainees and prisoners of war

Eritrea will not allow the ICRC to visit Ethiopian prisoners of war or civilian detainees. Eritrean spokesman Yemane Ghebre Meskel told IRIN today that the reasons were part of a "long story", and that despite the ban, "basic rights are upheld". "Differences" between Eritrea and the ICRC include "procedural matters" regarding the national Red Cross Movement, he added, insisting that the Eritrean government, and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) during its long war with Ethiopia, had a "very clean record" in their treatment of prisoners. Journalists and human rights bodies are free to visit prisons and the 147 Ethiopian prisoners of war, he said. Ethiopian POWs visited by journalists last week said they were well-treated. Commented an Amnesty International official: "It's no substitute for access by the ICRC."

About 1,200 Eritrean civilians are detained - "for security reasons" - in eastern Ethiopia, Ethiopian spokeswoman Selome Tadesse confirmed, while Yemane said Eritrea holds 11 Ethiopian civilian detainees. The number of Eritrean prisoners of war in Ethiopia was not immediately available. ICRC officials make regular visits to Bilattein camp in the east of the country, which houses both categories, but Amnesty International, in a statement on Tuesday, described conditions at the camp as "harsh". Last Sunday, Ethiopia released 38 Eritrean students who were among the detainees in Bilattein.

KENYA: Sixteen 'Eritreans' now at Kakuma camp

Sixteen people who refused to be flown to Asmara from Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), finally agreed to go to Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya. "The people are no longer here, they left on Tuesday evening for Kakuma refugee camp," Priscilla Lagat, customer relations officer at the airport, confirmed today. "They discovered that it would be to their advantage to present themselves at the camp, to at least get the refugee status protection," IOM's Logistics Assistant Fredrick Omondi told IRIN. "This would enable to them make the next move which could be seeking resttlement." The 16 had decided to go on a hunger strike, insisting that Kenya's government grant them political asylum, and that they be accomodated in Nairobi and not in refugee camps. "The situation was tricky because one cannot be given asylum twice,'' Omondi explained. "Kenya does not share a boundary with Eritrea and these people did not qualify for asylum. What the government of Kenya did was on an exceptional basis," he explained. "The whole problem was very complex and delicate."

Meanwhile, Kidane Woldeyesus, an official at the Eritrean embassy in Nairobi, denied that Eritrean returnees were likely to be forcibly conscripted."We cannot force anybody into the force because we would be making potential enemies in the force," he told IRIN. "We are not short of human resources, even if we were to conscript more, we would go for patriots who would voluntarily come up." The 16 said they are not Eritreans so "we were relieved", Woldeyesus said.

CONGO-BRAZZAVILLE: Cocoyes kill Dolisie commander

Cocoye militia allied to former president Pascal Lissouba killed the military commander of Dolisie in south-western Congo on Monday, Reuters said yesterday (Wednesday). Citing family members of the slain commander, Reuters said Colonel Tounda Vincent de Paul was shot dead when Cocoye militia infiltrated the town's airport. Sporadic clashes between Cocoyes and government forces have been reported in the Dolisie area since a January attack on the town by the militia group, news agencies said.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: New Offensive? No, says RCD; Yes, says Bemba

The rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) this week denied mounting a new offensive against the DRC government and its allies (Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Chad) but a second rebel group, the 'Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo' (MLC) said it had stepped up its fight against the government, wire services reported yesterday. The DPA quoted RCD leader Ernest Wamba dia Wamba as saying that it was his troops that had been being bombarded by the allies. He said they were continuing their advance, but denied that they had launched a new offensive whose objective included capturing a string of key towns stretching from Lubumbashi in the south to Gbadolite in the north-western province of Equateur. However, rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba said his MLC had launched an offensive about a week ago on various fronts and aimed to take Gbadolite, according to AFP. The news agency also quoted Bemba as saying that his advance troops were 120 km from the town and that pitched battles were being fought daily.

Security Council renews ceasefire call

The UN Security Council yesterday called on all parties in the DRC, especially the rebel movements, to stop fighting and resolve their differences through democratic means. In a press statement, the council's president said its members were deeply concerned about the continuing impact of hostilities on civilians and the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Council members were particularly concerned about the continuing flow of illegal arms to the country and the issue of military training. The statement stressed the vital importance of ensuring a broad-based, multi-ethnic involvement in peace efforts.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: DRC refugees move further inland

Some 4,400 Congolese refugees are being relocated from a temporary camp in the port of Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR) to a new location in Boubou, some 325 kms away. A UNHCR spokesperson told IRIN today that the operation started on Friday 12 February and that about 100 refugees were being trucked every two or three days to the Boubou camp. He said he was not sure of the reasons for the relocation but that the usual practice was to have camps located away from borders. (Bangui lies just across the Ubangi river from the DRC.) The relocation could also be motivated by a desire to find a more suitable location for the refugees, added the UNHCR official, who said there were an estimated 6,700 Congolese refugees in the CAR.

GREAT LAKES REGION: Burundi and Tanzania agree to upgrade relations

The Burundian and Tanzanian governments agreed this week to upgrade Burundi's diplomatic representation in Dar es Salaam to ambassador level, according to a joint communique issued Tuesday in the Tanzanian capital and quoted by 'The Guardian' newspaper in Tanzania. The communique was issued during a visit by Burundian Foreign Minister Severin Ntahomvukiye. A tripartite commission comprising the two countries and the UNHCR is scheduled to meet on 28-29 March and, according to Ntahomvukiye, its agenda will include security between Tanzania and Burundi, the situation in refugee camps in Tanzania and the issue of armed rebels there. He said at a news conference that the uncontrolled passage of heavy weapons in the Great Lakes had enabled Burundian rebels based in Tanzania to attack Burundi.

RWANDA: Poor rainfall reduces crop production

Poor rains since November have slashed crop harvests for Rwanda's A season which runs from September 1998 through February 1999, according to a joint assessment team comprising representatives of the Rwandan Ministry of Agriculture, FAO, WFP and the EU. The team's preliminary findings suggest that production will be about 15 percent lower than last year, with beans being the crop hardest hit while sweet potatoes were less affected. The shortfall in pulse production will probably result in a less balanced diet rather than a drastic reduction in calorie intake, the team said. "For the first semester of 1999, the food shortage is estimated at 158,000 tonnes cereals-equivalent," FAO's Emergency Coordinator for Agriculture in Rwanda Jean-Francois Gascon told IRIN. Commercial imports will cover 59,000 mt, while food aid will cover 52,000 mt, leaving a deficit of 47,000 mt cereals-equivalent. "The food situation is worst in the northwest and the southeast of the country," Gascon added.

Meanwhile, the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) has reported in its latest bulletin that due to improved security in December, there are now fewer IDPs in the north-western prefectures of Gisenyi and Ruhengeri. The government is phasing out IDP camps and has resettled about half the displaced near their former lands by establishing smaller sites designed for 20 to 150 families. WFP is providing food to the displaced, but other programmes needed to support resettlement have not been fully established. Catholic Relief Services and World Vision International are helping to supply agricultural inputs, but a greater effort will be required to reinsert resettled people into the agricultural economy. FEWS said seeds may also need to be distributed in Butare and Gikongoro, given the likely impact of the current rainfall deficit on harvests in these southern prefectures.

Nairobi, 18 February 1999, 1600 GMT


Date: Thu, 18 Feb 1999 19:29:43 -0300 (GMT+3) From: IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <> Subject: Central and Eastern Africa: IRIN Update 612 for 18 Feb 1999.2.18

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar,