IRIN-CEA Update 729 for 5 Aug [19990807]

IRIN-CEA Update 729 for 5 Aug [19990807]

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-CEA Update No. 729 for Central and Eastern Africa (Thursday 5 Aug 1999)

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Bemba waiting for Chiluba reply over bombings

Leader of the rebel Mouvement de liberation congolais (MLC) Jean-Pierre Bemba said he was awaiting a reply from Zambian President Frederick Chiluba, mediator of the DRC peace process, on "what step to take" after government troops allegedly bombed the towns of Bogbonga and Makanza, near Mbandaka, on Wednesday. Bemba told IRIN on Thursday the attack "came as a surprise", causing many people to flee and others remaining "in a state of shock". According to Bemba, two Sudanese Antonov planes dropped 18 bombs on the two "heavily concentrated" towns, killing 384 civilians and 134 soldiers. "I immediately called Chiluba to inform him and seek his advice over Kabila's violation of the ceasefire," Bemba said. "I also asked him to send a helicopter which I would use to take journalists to the towns to verify the incidents." Bemba said that "24 hours later" he was still waiting for Chiluba's call. He added that he had put his soldiers on standby since the incident, and they were recovering the bodies for burial.

Bemba expressed disappointment over the "lack of attention" by humanitarian agencies and the international community to the suffering in DRC. "Over 500 people have been killed and thousands are in the bush, but nobody, no agency has even come to find out the needs, be it medicines, food or shelter," he said. Ugandan army sources in the DRC confirmed the incident and said the majority of soldiers who died in the attack were Ugandans and that there "must be retaliation".

The DRC government has said it is unaware of the bombings. Bemba told IRIN it was "shameful to deny the attacks". He has threatened to withdraw his signature on the Lusaka peace accord.

Zambian delegation to visit rebel-held areas

A Zambian delegation, led by Presidency Minister Eric Silwamba, is expected in rebel-held territory in eastern DRC to "investigate the leadership wrangle" in the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD), the Rwanda News Agency (RNA) reported. It quoted the RCD's head of foreign affairs Alexis Tambwe Mwamba as saying the Zambian delegation "is welcome in our territories". "It will note that we are in full control of all the areas in our hands, that RCD-Kisangani is just mere fiction, that Wamba has no forces at all," he said.

Uganda to withdraw troops from DRC

Uganda's Minister for State for Foreign Affairs Amama Mbabazi on Wednesday told journalists in Kampala that Ugandan soldiers would withdraw from DRC "after all parties have signed the [Lusaka] agreement". He stressed that the ceasefire agreement must be implemented, Radio Uganda said.

Meanwhile, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni held "fruitful" talks with the Goma-based RCD rebels led by their Vice-President Moise Nyarugabo, the semi-official 'New Vision' reported. The Rwanda News Agency quoted Nyarugabo as saying his team explained to Museveni the process by which former RCD leader Ernest Wamba dia Wamba was ousted. "He seemed convinced by our explanations. We handed him documents relating to Wamba's removal and we hope that they will be examined seriously," he said. Uganda is seen as backing Wamba's RCD-Kisangani faction.

South Africa denies troops are in DRC

The South African government has denied media reports that it has troops in the DRC. According to 'The Star' in Johannesburg, soldiers from South Africa's special forces were in DRC to "prepare the groundwork" for participation in a peacekeeping force and for "protecting South Africa's interests". However, a defence ministry spokesman told IRIN: "The whole story is totally untrue. We have no troops in the DRC."

Peacekeepers will be sign of "re-engagement" in DRC

A senior UN official has said the deployment of UN observers in DRC is seen as a real contribution to establishing peace in the east of the country. The official told IRIN however that deployment without increased humanitarian assistance would not result in significant change. Local communities not only desire peace, they have to be able to afford it also. In this regard, humanitarian workers have recommended a form of "peace dividend" - supporting communities who respond to the message of peace. The official said that while no-one believes the observers will be able to control the movement of arms and troops, Congolese citizens believe their presence will have a "catalytic impact" on local communities who are yearning for peace. It will send a signal that the international community has "re-engaged" in DRC.

The official added that one of the early impacts of UN deployment and the Lusaka peace accord could be the significant return of displaced people and possibly thousands of refugees. Already in South Kivu, some 10,000 displaced people (out of a total of 200,000) have expressed the desire to return home from Bukavu.

Government to implement new salary scales

Information Minister Didier Mumengi has announced the government will implement new salary scales, in conformity with demands by civil servants who have been striking for the past three days. Speaking over state radio on Wednesday, he said salary arrears for May would be paid along with new salary rates for June and July. The government however warned the people against "possible political manipulation trying to exploit this difficult situation in a time of war". Mumengi also noted the government's concern over rising prices and said a system would be worked out for calculating and publishing the prices of essential commodities. The government would ensure the "strict implementation" of these prices, he added.

Human rights group claims harassment by government

A DRC human rights organisation, La voix des sans-voix (VSV), has expressed concern over the continued detention of two of its members by the security services in Kinshasa. In a statement received by IRIN, it said the two - Honore Kapuku and Timothee Dikwiza - had been held in custody since 27 July. The VSV claimed it was the victim of a "deliberate policy of harassment by the government". It said the two were arrested following the seizure of some VSV documents by the authorities.

RWANDA: Ousted RCD leader accused of training Interahamwe members

Seventy-seven of 139 rebels being trained at the Kisangani base of ousted RCD rebel leader, Wamba dia Wamba, were members of the Interahamwe militia who had been roaming in the forests of eastern DRC resisting repatriation to Rwanda, the Kigali-based weekly 'New Times' claimed this week. The publication quoted Wamba's RCD rivals in Goma who alleged that the 77 were identified by some NGOs as "genocidaries". The NGOs' suggestions on deporting them to Arusha or Rwanda for trial had "hit a dead end", RNA cited the paper as saying. Wamba has insisted he is training ordinary Congolese.

Government condemns disruptive fuel price rise

The Rwandan government on Wednesday condemned a sudden increase by oil companies in fuel prices, which has caused transportation chaos in Kigali and a knock-on effect on commodity prices. On Tuesday, the price of fuel at petrol stations in Kigali was increased from 230 Rwf to 265 Rwf, allegedly due to vehicle weight limitations imposed on Rwandan transporters by Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. "The decision by importers to increase oil prices was not discussed and approved by the government. It was an initiative by fuel dealers and transporters," Commerce Minister Mark Rugenera told the Rwanda News Agency. He condemned the move and called on business people to return their fuel prices to normal.

More local information needed for effective health planning, survey finds

A report published by the World Health Organisation has said restrictions on the ability to introduce effective health planning in Rwanda are due in part to the poor quality of available local information. The report noted that Rwanda's infrastructure was almost completely destroyed during the genocide of 1994 and this led to an urgent requirement for assistance in the health field. According to the report, health planning should take into account society and environmental factors. "Effective monitoring and detailed observation are identified as being essential to the continuity of existing humanitarian assistance," the report said.

BURUNDI: Ndadaye murder trial to be revised

Burundi's general prosecutor has announced a revision of the trial for the assassination of President Melchior Ndadaye who was killed in 1993. According to the private Azania news agency, he said certain elements of the penal code were violated during the trial. "Taking these violations into account, there are means of recourse," he was quoted as saying.

Finance ministry considers devaluation to boost exports

The government in Bujumbura is considering a major devaluation of the Burundi franc in order to boost competitiveness, senior government officials said on Wednesday. A devaluation of up to 20 percent is being considered, particularly because low commodity prices have led international traders to shun Burundi coffee, made relatively expensive by the over-valued Burundi franc, Reuters news agency reported. The franc is officially quoted at 530 against the dollar but fetches more than twice that rate on the black market and a devaluation would be welcomed by the Burundi Coffee Board (OCIBU) which needs money to invest in coffee production, it added.

Burundi's ability to pay for imports, and therefore its overall economic health, depends largely on its coffee crop, which accounts for about 80 percent of foreign exchange earnings, according to recent economic data. Coffee output has fallen sharply in the 1990s (from over 45,000 mt in 1992 to less than 20,000 mt in 1998) as a result of conflict, low world prices, fertiliser shortages and ageing plantations, and the sector will require substantial new investment, according to economic analysts. "We are advising the government to devalue the currency in order that farmers sustain their production costs", Reuters quoted Celestin Nkeza, chairman of Burundi's coffee auctions, as saying.

TANZANIA: Contribution helps secure food pipeline to refugee camps

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) on Wednesday welcomed a US $12.5 million donation from the European Commission Humanitarian Office (ECHO) which it said would enable it to continue feeding some 400,000 refugees in western Tanzania. "Thanks to this donation as well as to earlier contributions from the US, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, we have a full pipeline of non-cereals through October and of cereals through February next year," said Irene Lacy, WFP representative in Tanzania. The agency recently alerted donors to a severe funding shortfall and, over two months, had reduced rations of cereals and pulses by 25 percent among refugees in Kigoma and Kagera in order to avoid a complete halt in food distributions. "WFP's preparedness to respond to increased food needs is critical, especially in the overcrowded camps, where tensions rise with every new influx," a WFP statement said, adding that it is planned to resume full rations later this month.

Nairobi, 5 August 1999, 14:30 gmt


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Item: irin-english-1377

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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999

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

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