Great Lakes: IRIN Update 62, 12/19/96

Great Lakes: IRIN Update 62, 12/19/96

Department of Humanitarian Affairs
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IRIN Emergency Update No.62 on the Great Lakes (Thursday 19 December 1996)

Zaire named a new army chief yesterday as reports mounted of preparations for a counter-offensive against the rebels in eastern Zaire. Zairean television said General Mahele Bokoungo Lieko had been appointed army chief by presidential decree to restructure the armed forces "with a view to putting them on a war footing and improving their efficiency". Gen. Mahele, who held the post in 1991 and 1992 and who is said to be popular in Zaire, will also head the crack Special Presidential Division (DSP) troops as well as the civil guard and gendarmerie. The current civil guard chief, General Baramato Kpama, had been acting army chief and it is not known what role he will now play. Mobutu was due to meet political leaders today, according to state television.

Reuters reported that hundreds of residents were fleeing Goma, fearful of a counter-attack by the Zairean army. Residents told Reuters they believed French troops were based at Kisangani and would bombard Goma from the air, but there has been no confirmation of this. In a speech to the nation late Tuesday, Mobutu vowed to take personal control of the rebellion in the east. A spokesman for opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi described Mobutu's message as "generally satisfactory". Tshisekedi's Union for Democracy and Social Progress plans to hold an emergency congress on Saturday.

Eastern Zaire rebels announced they were ready for any counter-offensive, saying Mobutu's return changed nothing. Rebel leader Laurent Kabila called on Mobutu to resign and hand over power to the ADFL. "We are well prepared, morale of our troops is high and the population supports their liberation from slavery," he told Reuters. "Either he [Mobutu] engages himself in negotiations with the alliance to solve the political crisis or he has to face the law of force," Kabila said. In further remarks, broadcast by rebel Star Radio today, he assured civilians that they were safe and urged them not to flee rebel-held areas.

A possible standoff between rebels and Zairean troops in Bunia was gaining momentum as Zairean reinforcements were flown into the town, while sources on the ground reported that rebels were in control of villages around the town, including Boga, Geti and Mambasa. Eight to ten planeloads of Zairean soldiers have reportedly been flown to Bunia from Kisangani, and troops are arriving from Kinshasa to beef up forces in Kisangani.

WFP began airlifting food aid into Kisangani yesterday for onward distribution to Lubutu where missionary sources confirmed the presence of up to 150,000 mostly Rwandan and Burundian refugees at Tingi-Tingi just outside the town. They were said to be faring better than some 50,000 displaced people further south in Katshungu who were in very poor shape. WFP however, said the children in Lubutu were particularly vulnerable, many of them showing signs of severe dehydration. There has been speculation - so far unconfirmed - that the Lubutu refugees may comprise ex-FAR/Interahamwe elements.

ICRC said it was providing assistance for almost 50,000 Rwandan and Burundian refugees who had gathered near the town of Shabunda. There were several thousand new arrivals very day at the temporary site deep in the forest. ICRC said the aid operation was being conducted in extremely arduous conditions because of the nature of the terrain and heavy rainfall. Supplies were first airlifted by heavy transport plane from Nairobi to Kindu, then transferred to lighter aircraft which can land at Shabunda. There they were loaded onto dugout canoes, and bicycles were used for the last part of the journey.

Kenya lashed out at Zaire yesterday, saying it took great exception to comments by Zairean Information Minister Boguo Makele that the second Nairobi Great Lakes summit was a plot by anglophone countries to destabilise Zaire. "It is regrettable that Zaire does not appreciate efforts by the leaders of the subregion to find solutions to the crisis in Zaire," said a statement, signed the permanent secretary in the information ministry, Samuel Ambuka. Media reports point out that the Nairobi summit strengthened Kenyan President Moi's hand in the region by successfully including President Mandela to handle a crisis outside his immediate region.

Rwandan returnees from Tanzania's Ngara camps today were put at 20,000 as of 10:30 local time, while an estimated 225,000 had arrived by yesterday. A UN spokesman confirmed that a Rwandan soldier had fired on a vehicle in a UNHCR convoy yesterday. No injuries were reported, but night-time operations were suspended as a result. Way stations are being set up for about 120,000 refugees expected to start the long trek from the Karagwe camps to the Rusumo border crossing in the next few days. Tanzanian Foreign Minister Jakaya Kikwete reiterated that all Rwandan refugees must return, despite criticisms of human rights violations. "We won't listen, we won't apologise to anyone. Let them talk until they get tired and keep quiet," he said. Allowing the refugees to remain in Tanzania would just provide a haven for ex-FAR/Interahamwe groups, he added. Kikwete also said his government would hand over an undisclosed number of Rwandan refugees indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. These included some of the refugees rounded up last week for intimidating fellow refugees, he told a news conference. "We will send them to the Arusha tribunal to face charges of genocide in Rwanda," he said.

Uganda yesterday refused to host some 2,000 Rwandan refugees who crossed into its territory from camps in Tanzania. In an interview with the state-owned 'New Vision" newspaper, Local Government Minister Bidandi Ssali said the refugees, who were sheltering at the Oruchinga camp in Mbarara district, would either have to go home, or back to Tanzania. "We are not prepared to accept them here, not because they are Hutus, but because they have contravened the UN convention on refugees," he said. Malawi also said it would not offer asylum to Rwandans escaping repatriation from Zaire and Tanzania, saying it had suffered badly from environmental problems when it had hosted Mozambican refugees.

A report in Kenya's 'East African Standard' today claimed at least 100 Hutu refugees had secretly crossed into Kenya from Tanzania over the last four days. The newspaper cited sources as saying the refugees from camps in the Ngara region, had entered Kenya through the Isebania border area in Kuria district using secret routes to avoid immigration procedures.

Rwanda reported that some 5,500 Zairean refugees in the Gisenyi area began returning home yesterday. According to Rwandan radio, monitored by the BBC, the refugees had been living at the university compound in Mudende, Mutura commune. Local authorities concluded there was no reason for the refugees to continue living under sheeting when their home areas were peaceful, the radio said. Meanwhile, according to UN figures, 446 Burundians, fleeing fighting in Cibitoke province, entered Rwanda via Cyangugu between 13-16 December. They are being housed at a camp for Burundian refugees near Bugarama. Burundi's main Hutu party FRODEBU yesterday accused the military of killing 4,000 Hutu refugees who had returned to Burundi from Zaire. The claim was made by party leader Jean Minani in an interview with Radio France Internationale from Arusha, Tanzania. A UN human rights report a week ago said 1,000 people had been massacred between end October-end November, mostly by soldiers.

The Vatican on Tuesday said it had convened a meeting of Roman Catholic bishops from the Great Lakes to discuss the crisis in the region, the first such meeting in four years. The four-day meeting begins today in Nairobi, and comprises bishops from Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire and church representatives from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The Vatican said the meeting was aimed at showing ecclesiastical solidarity in the region and identifying the Church's priorities and actions.

Uganda and Sudan are to meet in Kampala this week for peace talks brokered by Iran, although President Museveni said he did not expect huge progress to be made. "I have agreed that talks should take place here," he told a news conference late Tuesday. "But of course we have not broken any ground with [Sudanese Islamic leader] Mr al-Tourabi's people." Museveni said Uganda was still searching for a military solution to the rebellion in the north, which it says is backed by Sudan. "We must get a solution to al-Tourabi's blackmail, a military solution," Museveni said. "I am not going to invade al-Tourabi. Al-Tourabi has enough enemies who will take care of him." Sudan accuses Uganda of supporting the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army in the south.

Nairobi, 19 December 1996, 15:00 gmt [ENDS]

[Via the UN DHA Integrated Regional Information Network. The material contained in this communication may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN DHA IRIN Tel: +254 2 622123 Fax: +254 2 622129 e-mail: for more information. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer.]

Date: Thu, 19 Dec 1996 18:32:32 +0300 From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <> Subject: Great Lakes: IRIN Update 62 for 19 Dec 1996 96.12.19 Message-ID: <>

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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