Great Lakes: IRIN Update 83, 01/21/97

Great Lakes: IRIN Update 83, 01/21/97

Department of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network

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IRIN Emergency Update No.83 on the Great Lakes (Tuesday 21 January 1997)

# In his "message to the nation" on 20 January, that Zairian Prime Minister Kengo Wa Dondo announced that he had given the order for the army to launch a war to restore the territorial integrity of Zaire. "In the name of the government and in agreement with the president of the republic, I have today ordered our armed forces to conduct the war and recover regions currently under occupation and restore the authority of the state," Kengo told the nation on state television, said Reuters. He also asked, "that national radio and television programmes be adapted to the occasion."

AFP reported that the Zairian army had been radically restructured and new officers brought into the higher echelons in recent weeks. Four officers and ten soldiers are on trial for cowardice and another 20 officers have been imprisoned for violent crimes. All of them face the death penalty if they are found quilty. General Mahele Leiko Bokoungo, the military chief of staff, said he had been given the means to launch a "total and lethal" counter-offensive against the ADFL. Since last week General Mahele has been in Kisangani, widely accepted as the springboard for any military operation. Witnesses told Reuters that there had been regular arrivals of planes in recent days and weeks carrying weapons and men. One senior dignitary in the region told Reuters that the mercenaries in Kisangani number around 300. An AFP journalist claimed to have observed increased military activity, three Russian-made MI-24 attack helicopters, three French-built helicopters, a Puma and two Gazelles, in or near Kisangani.

# A spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General told Reuters that Kofi Annan strongly condemned the killing of three Spanish aid workers in Rwanda on Saturday. The Secretary-General emphasized that the violence underscored the need to find a solution to the problems of the Central African Great Lakes region.

Following several UN/NGO/government meetings in Kigali on Monday, the UN decided not to suspend their operations in the affected area. UN and NGO agencies agreed to an enhanced list of security measures, which include limiting humanitarian staff presence in Ruhengeri (96 km from Kigali) to daylight hours, increasing communication between UN and NGOs and the undertaking of efforts to heightened technical and educational security precautions. A UN communique said UN and NGO agencies are continuing to hold meetings with the Rwandan government to discuss security issues.

Some humanitarian workers have been critical of the response, saying that not enough pressure has been placed on the government to improve overall security for humanitarian agencies and their staff. Aid officials told Reuters that they felt the decision to continue operations could lead to more expatriate deaths. Most agencies have removed all or, as in the case of Medecins Sans Frontieres and Merlin, a significant part of their staff from the region.

# Zaire's government has hit back at opponents, who have called for a boycott and protests against the new larger denomination banknotes, saying any statements against their use will be treated as a threat to national security, said Reuters. The government on Friday denounced the boycott as political, saying politicians were using the issue to further their personal ambitions. Etienne Tshisekedi, the most prominent member of the opposition, and Bemba Saolona, former financial advisor to Mobutu and currently president of the Zaire business association, ANEZA, have both called for a boycott that has had popular support in Kinshasa. AZADHO, Zaire's main human rights group also urged the withdrawl of the banknotes because of their inflationary pressure and the resulting social consequences.

Michel Luya, the publisher of one of Zaire's many opposition dailies "Le Palmares", was detained on Friday for allegedly publishing false stories. His lawyer told Reuters he was being detained because "Le Palmares" had recently ran stories about President Mobutu Sese Seko's illness and criticized the president's reorganization of the army.

Citing Zairian state radio, Reuters reported that the European Union (EU) had offered to give Zaire $35 million, 14% of the estimated $253 million, to help it organize national elections, which have been promised since 1990. "We are convinced that the elections will help cool down the situation," the EU spokesperson told the radio. "We encourage the government to organize these elections as quickly as possible." Most international donor countries had cut all but emergency assistance to Zaire in 1994 because of repeated setbacks in establishing the electoral process, instituting financial reforms and addressing human rights violations. Under the transitional constitution, elections must be held by July 1997. Given the dilapidated state or non-existence of most communication and transportation infrastructure throughout Zaire, many analysts consider this deadline to be unachievable.

Joseph Olenghankoy the head of the radical opposition's parliamentary group told Reuters that the opposition is considering sending an envoy to hold peace talks with rebel leader Laurent Kabila. Analysts believe that a significant victory and territorial gains are necessary before Zaire will envision peace talks with Kabila. Etienne Tshisekedi, head of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), had previously suggested the idea of negotiating with Kabila in December 1996. He allowed the issue to drop when the local press began to speculate that he was in league with Kabila. Tshisekedi and the UDPS are from the Kasai, a region with a history of rebellion.

# The International Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, heard from the most recent witness in the genocide trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu, the former mayor of the central Rwandan town of Taba. After identifying the accused as the man who beat and tortured her, the 70-year-old witness bowed to the accused and shook him warmly by the hand. Reuters claimed spectators and participants were stunned by the move and could not agree if it was an act of forgiveness or an act of reflexive deference to her former commune leader.

# The state-owned daily "New Vision" reported that two Ugandan MPs on route to a security meeting at Yumbe town, situated 20 km from both the Sudanese and Zairian borders, narrowly escaped an ambush by pro-Idi Amin rebels of the West Nile Bank Front (WNBF), said AFP. New Vision also reported that rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which operates in northern Uganda, killed 14 people in an attack on Gulu town, the northern Ugandan regional capital. Civilians told "New Vision" that an unknown number of people had been abducted in the attacks and all the residents had been threatened with death if they remain in the area.

Ugandan authorities accused the Sudanese air force of air-dropping food supplies to the LRA in Lea Bul near the Sudan/Uganda border, said AFP. Sudan has denied the accusation.

# The executive director of the World Food Programme, has appealed for an urgent political solution to the refugee crisis in Eastern Zaire, saying that, "in the absence of a political settlement, it is difficult to see how relief agencies like WFP can sustain such an expensive and complicated relief effort over a long period of time." WFP warned that the cost of delivering food relief to the region is now almost ten times higher than normal because rough terrain had forced WFP to rely mostly on air transport. Operational costs which are normally around $185 US per ton have soared as high as $1,600 US.

Nairobi, 21 January 1997, 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: Tue, 21 Jan 1997 18:54:59 +0300 From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <> Subject: Great Lakes: IRIN Update 83 for 21 Jan 1997 97.1.21 Message-Id: <>

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

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