IRIN-CEA Update No. 737 for 17 Aug [19990817]

IRIN-CEA Update No. 737 for 17 Aug [19990817]

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. 737 for Central and Eastern Africa (Tuesday 17 August 1999)

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Heavy casualties as fighting continues

Civilian casualties have been high in four days of heavy fighting between Rwandan troops (RPA) and the Ugandan People's Defence Forces (UPDF) in the rebel-held eastern DRC town of Kisangani. The conflict, which broke out on Saturday evening, continued on Tuesday after an informal ceasefire had brought a lull on Monday evening, according to media and humanitarian sources. Also on Tuesday, Rwanda News Agency (RNA) cited diplomatic sources as saying that at least 50 civilians had been killed, and military sources said Associated Press correspondent Harvoje Hranjski had been wounded by a stray bullet on Tuesday while reporting on the ongoing clashes.

Rwanda on Monday established control of all key positions, including the airport on the outskirts on the town, but Ugandan troops had launched a fresh offensive on Tuesday morning, informed sources in eastern DRC told IRIN. Combatants and observers alike said the fighting was fierce, including in residential areas, and that casualties would be "very heavy".

UN condemns fighting as a "violation of humanitarian principles"

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday urged an immediate end to the fighting and expressed his concern that the Kisangani clashes would "further complicate ongoing regional efforts for a peaceful resolution to the conflicts in the Great Lakes region." The fighting had trapped hundreds of civilians who reported to health centres to have children immunised against polio as part of a UNICEF/WHO campaign and Annan protested this "flagrant violation of universal humanitarian principles", adding that immediate measures should be taken to allow women and children return to their homes and to ensure that humanitarian agencies had access to the wounded. "It is unacceptable that this fighting is taking place during the national immunisation days, which were supposed to provide the opportunity for some 10 million children to be immunised against polio", he added.

Rwandan says "cordial relations" with Uganda are unaffected

Meanwhile, Rwandan government spokesman Wilson Rutayasire said on Monday the confrontation had in "no way" affected the "cordial relations" enjoyed by the two countries. "Rwanda as a sovereign country has its own interests. Our friends are entitled to have their own interests different from ours. That does not stop us from continuing to be friends", RNA quoted Rutayasire as saying. He also expressed optimism that, since government officials were meeting to discuss the issue, "the confrontation was to be resolved soon."

Rutayisire also appealed to Uganda to respect the national interests of Rwanda in the DRC, "since Rwanda was a sovereign state".

That meeting between Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda's Vice-President Paul Kagame to attempt to resolve the crisis carried over from Monday to Tuesday, with no details yet emerging, Uganda's Presidential Press Secretary Hope Kivengere told IRIN. She also denied media reports

that Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu had been involved in the meeting.

US bids to stop fighting and protect Lusaka accord

A high-level US delegation, including National Security Adviser Gayle Smith, was in Uganda on Monday and Tuesday to meet both sides - traditional allies, in the region and of the US - in an effort to resolve the situation so that the Congolese rebels could be quickly persuaded to sign the Lusaka ceasefire agreement, American diplomats in Kampala told IRIN. Regardless of the internal politics of the rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) or the immediate cause of the trouble in Kisangani, the US was convinced that "if Museveni and Kagame can reach an understanding of how to stop it, then it can be stopped", they added.

Kinshasa wants inquiry on Katanga "massacre"

The DRC government has called on the UN, the OAU and the European Union to condemn a reported civilian massacre in the Kasala area of Katanga province. Congolese radio on Monday said Kinshasa also wanted an international commission of inquiry to be set up for the alleged massacre, in which 41 civilians were reportedly burned to death in late July for refusing to support the rebellion against President Laurent-Desire Kabila. The radio quoted a statement by Human Rights Minister Leonard She Okitundu as saying the Congolese people did not understand the "absence of a reaction" by the international community "in the face of the crimes being perpetrated daily by the Ugandan and Rwandan invaders." Meanwhile, a humanitarian source told IRIN on Monday that while it was true the rebels frequently burned captured villages, Kasala and its surroundings were likely to have been virtually empty in late July because villagers had fled the rebel advance earlier in the month.

Kabila divides country into military regions

Kabila has issued a decree dividing the country into eight military regions, Congolese state television reported on Friday. It said the two Kivu provinces would be under the first military region, Province Orientale under the second region, and Maniema and Kasai Orientale provinces under the third. Katanga and Equateur would be under the fourth and fifth regions, respectively, while Kasai Occidental and Bandundu would form the sixth region. Kinshasa and Bas-Congo would be under the seventh and eighth regions, respectively.

Partial results from vaccination days

Only partial information on the outcome of the first phase of the three-day national polio vaccination campaign that ended Sunday was available, as results were still coming in from the different vaccination points, a UNICEF spokesman told IRIN on Monday. He said preliminary figures provided by government health authorities suggested that at least 92 percent of the target number of children were vaccinated in Kinshasa, while UNICEF's sub-office covering Bas-Congo reported some 60 percent of the total number of children targeted in that province had been vaccinated on day one of the campaign alone.

In Kasai Occidental province, 28 health zones launched vaccination activities, but information was lacking from three other zones, including two on the "front line", the spokesman said. Vaccinations had gone ahead in government-controlled zones in Katanga, while information was still awaited from RCD-held areas in that province. Information had yet to come in from Bandundu, Equateur or from provinces under rebel control, except North Kivu where vaccinations were reported to have gone ahead as planned, the spokesman added.

Economic crisis leads to re-emergence of rare disease

Cases of konzo, an incurable disabling disease associated with high food insecurity, were reported to be increasing in Bas-Congo, FAO said. In its latest DRC food security update, received by IRIN on Monday, FAO said that pressure caused by the economic crisis has led people in the area to reduce the number of days they soak locally-grown bitter cassava, which was insufficient to remove the high toxic cyanide content from the staple food before it was consumed.

A report on WHO's web site says that konzo, a disease reported only from poor rural communities in Africa, was known exclusively in areas characterised by rapidly growing populations with insufficient household food security, economic stagnation and severe agro-ecological problems. Epidemics, the first of which was reported in Bandundu province in 1936, have coincided with food shortages that led to protein-deficient diets and shortcuts in cassava processing. Women of child-bearing age and children aged between 3-13 years were at greatest risk of paralysis, it says. Even a limited amount of relief food in konzo-affected areas may effectively reduce cyanide exposure, the WHO report adds.

Survey finds over 30,000 displaced by ethnic conflict

Latest information from the Djugu area of Province Orientale indicates that between 8,000-10,000 homes had been burned to the ground and 30,151 people displaced as a result of recent tribal conflict between the Walendu and Wagegere (Wahema) ethnic groups. Sources in contact with the area told IRIN on Monday that many of the displaced were living in the bush without any shelter. Others had been taken in by neighbouring tribes or had moved in with relatives in other areas, the sources said, citing a survey conducted in the conflict-affected area. Immediate priority needs were food aid, shelter materials, blankets, medicines and cooking utensils, the sources added.

BURUNDI: UN appoints new human rights rapporteur

The United Nations High Commission on Human Rights has this week appointed a new expert to study the human rights situation in Burundi. Marie-Therese Aissata Keita of Cote d'Ivoire has been appointed as Special Rapporteur for Burundi, succeeding Paulo Sergio Pinheiro who resigned earlier this year, a UN press statement said on Monday. Aissata Keita, who is Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Abidjan Cocody and Director of the Institut d'Etudes Politiques of Yammoussoukro in her home country, will be expected to submit a report to the next session of the Human Rights Commission in the spring of 2000, the statement added.

RWANDA: Bagosora's defence wants witness protected

The defence counsel for genocide suspect Theoneste Bagosora on Tuesday asked the Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to request Tanzania to suspend extradition hearings for former Rwandan army officer Bernard Ntuyahaga, and that Ntuyahaga be "protected" since he was a "key witness" in Bagosora's case. The Hirondelle press agency quoted French lawyer Raphael Constant as having asked the court to take "all necessary steps" to ensure the "safety and security" of Ntuyahaga until he appears as a witness in the Bagosora trial. He argued that if Ntuyahaga were extradited to Rwanda, his life would be in danger. The prosecution said the motion was not appropriate as there was "no case pending" against Ntuyahaga.

UGANDA: Airlines defy ban on DRC flights

Some privately-owned aircraft have been defying a Ugandan government ban on commercial flights to the DRC by first flying to Kigali before heading to the rebel-held Congolese towns of Goma, Kisangani, Beni and Bunia, where they off load their cargo, Uganda's semi-official 'New Vision' newspaper reported on Monday. The paper quoted Congolese traders as saying the 30 July ban had enabled rebel chiefs, Ugandan government officials and army officers to benefit from lucrative trade in eastern DRC. "This is one of the main causes of the current row between Uganda and Rwandan officers. Their rivalry is purely business-oriented not political," the paper quoted a trader as saying.

TANZANIA: Study shows problems with relevance and freshness of donated drugs

A WHO study, the results of which were published on Monday, has shown that a substantial proportion of drugs donated to Tanzania and other developing countries by the United States fail to meet local medical needs or have a short shelf life. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health in the US collected data on 16,566 pharmaceuticals shipped to Armenia, Haiti and Tanzania by two relief agencies between 1994 and 1997. About 30 percent of the drugs had a shelf-life of a year or less and six percent had less than 100 days, the study concluded.

Between 10 and 42 percent of the donated drugs were not listed as essential by the recipient country or the WHO Model List of Essential Drugs, nor were they permissible therapeutic alternatives. According to the WHO bulletin, donated drugs also arrived unsorted and inappropriately labelled, and their quality did not always comply with standards in donor countries. On occasion, the drugs also had a high declared value, based on their market value in the donor country, leading to high customs charges for recipients, the report added.

Nairobi, 17 August 1999 15:30 GMT


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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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