IRIN Update 626 for 10 March 1999

IRIN Update 626 for 10 March 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. 626 for Central and Eastern Africa (Wednesday 10 March 1999)

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Rebels spotted close to Kinshasa

Allied air reconnaissance has spotted rebels of the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) just 180 km east of Kinshasa, security sources told IRIN today (Wednesday). It is unclear at the moment whether the troops are part of a fresh attempt on Kinshasa or a probing team, the sources said. Meanwhile, a Harare-based defence specialist told IRIN the situation on the ground was "entering a fluid stage" with both sides seeking military advantage before returning to the negotiating table. He added that allied strategy is to "husband their resources" while training and reorganising DRC government forces.

Pepa allegedly looted by rebels

Initial reports indicate that rebel forces attacked civilians and looted the Katanga town of Pepa south of Moba last week, an event which helped trigger the influx of some 4,000 refugees into Zambia, regional analysts told IRIN today. Pepa, 60 km from the Zambian border, also hosted displaced from Moba who had escaped the earlier rebel capture of that town. They were among the new refugee arrivals in Zambia. Around 600 DRC soldiers and policemen who also crossed the border have been disarmed and separated from the refugees, the sources said. A joint Zambian-DRC team is expected to be formed to look into the modalities of their return home.

Meanwhile, sources in contact with Kindu in Maniema province told IRIN today that there had been no government attack on the rebel-held town last week and that air connections between Kindu and Goma were operating normally. However, tension in Kindu had increased a few days ago, and one source said clashes with government forces had been reported in the border area between Maniema and Kasai Oriental provinces.

No ex-FAZ camps in Brazzaville, embassy says

Congo-Brazzaville has denied any involvement in the recent disturbances at Bolobo some 250 km northeast of Kinshasa and rejected allegations that it hosted ex-FAZ training bases. A statement from Brazzaville's embassy in Kinshasa, published in local newspapers, said President Denis Sassou-Nguesso would not "tolerate the existence of bases for the training of foreign elements to destabilise a neighbouring country."

London takes Kinshasa arrests "very seriously"

Four British officials and an American working for the British foreign office were arrested in Kinshasa on Sunday. They are currently being held at a hotel in the DRC capital under "house arrest", a UK foreign office spokeswoman told IRIN today. The UK is treating the arrests "very seriously". UK minister Tony Lloyd telephoned President Laurent-Desire Kabila about the matter today. The five, including two ministry of defence officials, were on "legitimate" and "routine" business, reviewing "standard plans for evacuation in the event of an emergency", the spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwean police are still investigating the case of three Americans arrested on Sunday for allegedly trying to smuggle weapons out of Zimbabwe. The men had travelled to Zimbabwe by road from the DRC. Airport security was alerted when one of the men had attempted to board a plane with a pistol. A security source in Harare who saw the impounded guns told IRIN "they were definitely not brand new".

DRC complains vs Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi

The DRC has become the first country to lodge a complaint at the African Commission on Human and People's Rights against another nation for violating human rights, according to Gabon's Africa Number One radio. The DRC's complaint against Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi was filed by Jean-Pierre Magungu, deputy minister of human rights, who submitted it to commission chairman Youssouf Ndiaye, the radio said on Sunday.

Annan pushes for polio-campaign truce

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday (Tuesday) welcomed the assurances provided by the DRC government and the RCD rebels that they would stop fighting to allow an urgently-needed polio immunisation campaign to be carried out in the country. UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York that Annan extended his full support to the WHO/UNICEF initiative. In a joint letter to the Secretary-General, the heads of the two agencies described the DRC campaign as the "single highest priority for global polio eradication".

In order to immunise some 10 million children under the age of five years throughout the country, a respite of fighting or a series of "days of tranquility" will need to be negotiated, Eckhard said. Kabila has publicly committed to support polio eradication, while RCD leader Ernest Wamba dia Wamba declared his support for days of tranquility during a meeting last month with UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Olara Otunnu.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Sergio Vieira de Mello has been designated to coordinate support for the initiative, Eckhard said. The DRC ministry of health is tentatively planning to conduct three vaccination rounds between July and September. A national immunisation campaign scheduled to start in August 1998 was cancelled due to the outbreak of the war. A vaccination campaign was subsequently organised by the government in December, but it only covered certain areas. The DRC and Sierra Leone are the only countries that have not yet conducted full National Immunisation Days. The WHO-led campaign to eradicate polio from the world by the year 2000 started in 1988.

UN humanitarian office opens in Goma

The UN has reestablished its humanitarian presence in Goma, Eckhard said yesterday. The office is under the lead of UNICEF and includes a representative from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, he said. The UN agencies will address the immediate needs of the victims of the conflict, with priority being given to providing health care and food aid to some 68,000 displaced persons in the Goma area, he added. UN humanitarian agencies withdrew from the area in August, when fighting led to a deterioration of security conditions.

BURUNDI: Peace talks resume in Arusha

Peace talks on Burundi resumed in Arusha, Tanzania, today. Delegates were meeting in committees dealing with the nature of conflict, democracy and good governance, peace and security, and economic reconstruction and development. "We are hopeful that the negotiations will be reached by the end of the year," Nyerere Foundation spokesman Mark Bomani told IRIN.

Prior to the resumption of the talks, the foundation held a two-day workshop to sensitise delegates on conflict management and techniques for peace negotiation with a team of international mediators who had helped negotiate peace deals in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and Mozambique. "The importance of these sessions was to give insight and enable delegates learn from other countries the basic components of conflict management and peace negotiation. We also hoped that it would make the people of Burundi realise that their problem was not unique." The attendance was large with representatives from civil society, women's groups and religious leaders, he noted.

KENYA: Government says 30 killed in clashes

The Kenyan government said today that 30 people died in last weekend's clashes between Turkana and Pokot communities in the northwest. "The bodies collected by police officers were 30. Sixteen of them Turkanas and 14 Pokots. Seven were injured and are still admitted in hospital," an official from the department of internal security told IRIN today. Press reports have provided conflicting figures of the number of people killed in the clashes, with some placing the number at 100. The security official said the clashes appeared to have been caused by cattle-rustling. "It took us by surprise because there has been quite a lull and peaceful co-existence between the two communities," he said.

SUDAN: Militia recruits deployed to war zones

The government on Monday sent at least 1,000 new militia recruits to the front. Defence Minister Lieutenant-General Abdel Rahman Sir Al-Khatim told the departing Popular Defence Force fighters that more militia would be sent to battle zones "until peace is achieved", Reuters reported. Meanwhile, the state news agency SUNA quoted a government official as saying at the weekend that new identity documents would be issued to foil those dodging their compulsory national service.

Opposition urges government into talks with NDA

Opposition leaders have called on the government to negotiate directly with the umbrella National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rather than individual opponents, AFP cited local newspapers as reporting yesterday. The opposition leaders also stressed the government should be involved in the talks rather than the ruling National Congress party. According to AFP, the government has remained silent over various reconciliation proposals floated by the National Congress in recent days. Among these have been attempts to attract high-profile opponents such as former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi to the negotiating table.

ETHIOPIA/SOMALIA: Ethiopia denies looting Somali border town

Ethiopia today denied press reports that its troops engaged in massive looting of private property in the Somali border town of Balanballe. A statement from the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi termed the Ethiopian force "a disciplined outfit" which has no track record of "looting property or any misconduct anywhere, anytime." The statement said it respects the territorial integrity of Somalia despite the absence of a central government. Press reports had alleged that Ethiopian troops in pursuit of Muslim fundamentalists from the Al-Itihad Al-Islam group crossed over to the Somalia side where they kidnapped one person and stole medicine and other property.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Opposition to return to parliament

Opposition legislators who walked out of the National Assembly in January have decided to return to their parliamentary seats, bringing the country's political impasse close to an end, Africa Number One radio said on Sunday. The opposition members had left the 109-seat Assembly to protest the defection of one of their legislators to the ruling party coalition following his election in the UN-supervised November/December 1998 polls. The defection had given President Ange Felix Patasse's Mouvance Presidentielle a majority in the parliament. "The boycott has never been an absolute rule," the radio, monitored by the BBC, quoted one opposition leader as saying.

Nairobi, 10 March 1999, 16:00 GMT


Date: Wed, 10 Mar 1999 19:15:29 +0300 (EAT) From: IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <> Subject: CENTRAL AND EASTERN AFRICA: IRIN Update 626 for 10 March

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

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