IRIN Update 617 for 25 Feb 1999

IRIN Update 617 for 25 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. 617 for Central and Eastern Africa (Thursday 25 February 1999)

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Garreton seeks help for Tutsis

The international community should take action to help ethnic Tutsis deprived of their liberty in Kinshasa and other areas of the DRC, Roberto Garreton, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the DRC, told IRIN today (Thursday).

"Western countries should assist these people, including looking at the possibility of taking them in at least for a certain period, and the government should facilitate their departure, including issuing them with identity documents," Garreton said from Geneva after his return from the DRC. He visited Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Goma during his week-long mission that ended on Tuesday.

Between 1,000 and 2,000 Tutsis are estimated to be "deprived of their liberty" in the country, he said. Although the government says the Tutsis are being held for their own protection, the rebels charge that they are being detained or held hostage by the government, he said. The strong pressure exerted by the international community against incitement to ethnic hatred since the start of the conflict had had some effect, but more needed to be done to curb anti-Tutsi public sentiment, Garreton said.

Eastern populations living in fear

Under current circumstances, people in both the west and the east of the country were unable to exercise their right to security, Garreton said. This was particularly the case in the east, where there was a climate of fear and a public sentiment of living under foreign occupation, he said. There were eight armies and at least 12 other armed groups active in the country, mostly in the eastern part, Garreton said, adding that people had expressed discontent that western governments and the UN had not used the term "aggression" in referring to the current conflict, he added.

Garreton said he had received good cooperation from the government and the rebels and was able to visit prisons and detention centres on both sides.

"Shocking" mortality rates in rural area

The impact of civil war on South Kivu's rural populations is staggering, resulting in "shocking" mortality rates and thousands of unseen casualties, an international NGO said in a report received by IRIN today. A survey conducted last week by the NGO International Rescue Committee (IRC) in the Katana zone near Bukavu indicated that the mortality rate among the zone's inhabitants was 3.8 per 1,000 people per month, which is two and a half times the normal baseline for sub-Saharan Africa, the report said. For children under five years of age, the mortality rate was 10.1 per 1,000 per month. Main causes of child deaths included malaria, measles and diarrhoea, the report said.

Need for humanitarian corridors stressed

The IRC report said the western half of Katana zone was controlled by Mayi-Mayi fighters while most of the northern part was either contested or under Mayi-Mayi control. Insecurity caused by the war had paralysed the health, social and economic service infrastructure and had limited access to humanitarian assistance, the report said. Clinics in the Katana area were poorly supplied and people could not afford the current fees for health services, it said, adding that Katana's population had more access to Bukavu's relative security and functioning health services than more isolated rural zones. The study highlighted the need to establish corridors for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations in South Kivu and other affected areas of the country.

Clinton expresses support for peacekeeping

U.S. President Bill Clinton yesterday (Wednesday) promised support for peacekeeping in Africa in general and efforts to resolve the conflict in DRC in particular. Speaking at a joint press conference in Washington with Ghanaian head of state Jerry Rawlings, Clinton said if a peace pact consistent with international rules and the long-term stability and welfare of Congo and its neighbours were signed, he "would certainly do (his) best to support any necessary force to maintain the peace for a period of transition, including logistical and other support."

SUDAN: Canadian churches call for no-fly zone

A group of Christian churches in Canada has called on the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone in Sudan to protect people in the south and centre of the country from what they termed indiscriminate bombings, Reuters reported yesterday. The group, which includes the Canadian Catholic Bishops' Conference and Anglican and protestant churches, said Canada should use its position on the Security Council to force such restrictions on Sudan.

Speaking at a news conference held this week in Ottawa to publicise the churches' call, Peter Schonenbach, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, accused Khartoum of using indiscriminate bombing, famine and forced displacement to crush the people of central and southern Sudan.

West Darfur calm but still volatile

The situation in west Darfur was reported to be calm but still volatile following recent large-scale fighting between nomadic pastoralists and local farming communities, humanitarian sources told IRIN. Medical supplies have been sent to the area to help care for the war wounded, they said. A recent UN/NGO/government mission to the area found that the conflict over scarce land and water resources had displaced thousands of families, destroyed more than 60 villages and killed scores if not hundreds of people.

RWANDA: Education Ministry defrauded of about US $500,000

The Rwandan Ministry of Education has taken a New York-based consulting firm, Network International (ICN), to court for defrauding it of about US $500,000 in a computer-purchasing deal that went sour, according to the Rwanda News Agency (RNA).

"We have been negotiating with ICN to recover the money since March of last year but all in vain," RNA quoted the ministry's director of administration and finance, Charles Gahima, as saying. "The Education Ministry has taken the case to court and the proceedings will start on March 1, 1999 at the Kigali Court of First Instance." According to Gahima, the money was paid to ICN, but the computers supplied were rejected because they were no good. The Ministry is now demanding a refund.

The Ministry is also trying to recover money which, it says, was embezzled from a project to rebuild schools in the country and reportedly borrowed from the World Bank. The ministry has taken the project's director and 11 foreign contracting companies who stole about US $2.7 million to court to get the money back, according to RNA.

SOMALIA: Security Council draws attention to humanitarian situation

The UN Security Council on Tuesday urged the international community to pay close attention to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Somalia. In a statement to the press, the Council's president, Robert Fowler of Canada, said it had been briefed earlier Tuesday on the "clearly appalling" situation in Somalia by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast. Fowler said Council members urged the international community to provide the assistance desperately needed by the civilian population. They also reiterated a call contained in a 1992 Security Council resolution for all states to honour the arms embargo on Somalia.

UNHCR: Guidelines on detaining asylum-seekers upgraded

UNHCR has updated its guidelines on the detention of asylum-seekers. According to a spokesman for the agency, UNHCR regretted the fact that, too often, asylum-seekers were held in prison, sometimes with common criminals. Detention of asylum-seekers should only take place in exceptional circumstances, such as for reasons of public safety or to ascertain identity, UNHCR said. Furthermore, detention must be prescribed by national law and conform to international standards. Children should not be placed in detention and particular attention should be paid to the vulnerable (torture and trauma victims, the sick, unaccompanied elderly), women and stateless people.

Where control of the residency of asylum-seekers is considered necessary, UNHCR urged states to examine alternatives to detention, such as a requirement to report regularly to the authorities or to live in a designated, but "open" reception centre, to ensure an adequate level of freedom of movement.

Nairobi, 25 February 1999, 1530 GMT


Date: Thu, 25 Feb 1999 18:47:09 +0300 (EAT) From: IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <> Subject: Central and Eastern Africa: IRIN Update 617 for 25 Feb 1999.2.25

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar,