Zaire: IRIN Update 22 on Eastern Zaire, 11/14/96

Zaire: IRIN Update 22 on Eastern Zaire, 11/14/96


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IRIN Emergency Update No. 22 on eastern Zaire (13-14 November 1996)

Calls for a multinational force to intervene in eastern Zaire appear to have been answered, with the appearance of an American advance team of 40 in Entebbe, Uganda. The Security Council, however, has yet to decide on the mandate of a multinational force.

Canada says it will take charge of the multi-national force on the condition that it does not have to disarm or seperate out the Interhamwe and former Rwandan forces from the bona fide refugees. The United States government has also refused to accept any mandate of disarmament.

While the planned arrival of a force has generally been welcomed, the conditions of the Canadian and US governments regarding the mandate are seen by much of the humanitarian community to undermine calls to tackle the root causes of the problem - namely the presence of the heavily armed Hutu extremist groups, the Interahamwe and the former Rwandan forces in the refugee camps in eastern Zaire.

Herman Cohen, former senior US government official and diplomat, said in a BBC interview, there had been conflicting opinions regarding the mandate of an international force and that "the humanitarian option won out over the military one".

Statements from UN organisations - such as UNHCR - European NGOs, the European Union and Oxfam have all previously focused on the need to seperate "intimidators from bona fide refugees" in order to tackle the present crisis in eastern Zaire and restore regional stability.

The Nairobi Summit (November 5), the Security Council (November 10) and the Organisation of African Unity (November 11) also called for "intimidators" to be seperated out. The UNHCR Regional Liaison Representative for Africa said in an address to the OAU (Monday November 11) that it was essential to separate out intimidators from the bona fide refugees, and organise the orderly repatriation of refugees. He said that one issue was clear: "long term and sustainable peace and security cannot be restored in Eastern Zaire and the countries of the Great Lakes as a whole without a rapid and durable solution to the refugee crisis. He said that in order for the repatriation strategy to work "the intimidators, militants and armed militia who, it seems, may have led many of the refugees into the hills and forests surrounding the camps, must once and for all, be separated from those who are genuinely in need of our protection and assistance."

In his speech to the Organisation of African Unity, OAU Secretary General Dr Salim Ahmed Salim said "no meaningful progress had been made" to return the refugees since 1994, and the problem would continue, and possibly be exacerbated, unless conditions for repatriation were met. He said "we look back and, bearing in mind the current catastrophic situation ... one cannot but lament the failure to act more decisively when the opportunity had presented itself". He said inaction had allowed the former Rwandan Army and the Interahamwe to continue holding refugees hostage, leading to killings and counter-killings and the escalation of tension between Zaire and Rwanda.

Rakiya Omaar, co-director of London-based human rights organisation African Rights, told IRIN from Kigali she believed most of the fighting in eastern Zaire is now between the former Rwandan troops or Interahamwe militia and Zairean rebel Alliance for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL). Coming from Bukavu and Uvira, she said the planned multinational military intervention was going to be "a thousand times worse than Somalia". International military intervention is Somalia was widely regarded as a failure. Omaar told IRIN that the "inevitable consequence" of a multinational intervention that refused to disarm armed elements would be violence, and a continuation of the problem - "if you are not going to disarm the armed elements, there is absolutely no purpose of coming. If a multinational force comes, it needs military and political preparation for armed engagment." She said that there was also a practical problem of separation, because it depended on a notion that there were two distinct groups, whereas the armed element were "husbands, sons, brother-in-laws and children" of the refugee mass. According to Omaar, there were immediate problems of hunger in Bukavu amongst the local population, where economic activity had been reduced to almost nothing. African Rights has said that the idea of a million people dying within weeks was absurd, and say the problem is one of "guns, grenades and genocidal ideologies, not starvation".

Since the announcement of the intentions of the multinational force, many members of the humanitarian community have expressed concern and scepticism about the mission. Some NGOs are expected to issue statements shortly. An editorial in the New York Times yesterday said "it would be reckless to throw a modest-sized international force between two larger warring armies that have yet to negotiate a cease-fire and that violently disagree about about where these refugees should be fed and settled".

US President Bill Clinton did not publicly respond to calls for the US to back a multinational force until Wednesday, after the Canadian government had said it would take command. US presidential elections on November 5th put the eastern Zaire issue "on hold", and meant that US diplomatic participation on the issue came late. Yesterday White House spokesman said arrangements for military deployment were "moving pretty quickly" because of the "urgency" of the situation, reported AFP.

The United States says it is ready to provide more aid to refugees in eastern Zaire once "mechanisms" have been set up to enable it to be delivered, US Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said in Rome yesterday. He said the US had already provided a major share of the humanitarian assistance to the region.

In London, government ministers and defence officials discussed on Wednesday British participation in a possible multinational intervention force to assist relief efforts. A multinational team is due in Kigali today to discuss modalities.

The force, according to the Canadian government, is expected to be between 10,000 and 15,000 - much larger than the orignal 5,000 troops proposed by France and Spain. Botswana, South Africa, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali and Senegal have offered to contribute, and possibly Zimbabwe.

Nairobi, 14 November 1996, 11:25 GMT


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Date: Thu, 14 Nov 1996 14:28:35 +0300 (GMT+0300) From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <> Subject: Zaire: IRIN Update 22 on Eastern Zaire for 13-14 Nov 1996 96.11.14 Message-ID: <>

Editor: Ali Dinar,