IRIN-CEA Weekly Round-up 18-5/7/99

IRIN-CEA Weekly Round-up 18-5/7/99

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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Central and Eastern Africa: IRIN-CEA Weekly Round-up 18 covering the period 1-7 May 1999

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Haemorrhagic fever epidemic in northeast

WHO on Friday confirmed that the epidemic of haemorrhagic fever in northeastern DRC is not due to the Ebola virus, but could be caused by the related Marburg virus. One of five samples analysed in South Africa tested positive for Marburg virus, the other four were negative. Revised figures from WHO say there are an estimated 76 cases of haemorrhagic fever in the Watsa area, with 52 deaths and investigations will be initiated to establish whether the Marburg virus is reponsible. More medical experts were expected in the area within the next few days, WHO said. It pointed out that the virus was transmitted to humans following contact with infected animals and animal tissues, and from person-to-person contact with infected patients and body fluids.

The first cases were reported in the Watsa zone in January this year but there are indications that since 1994, there have been multiple small outbreaks of an apparently similar illness in the Durba gold-mining area, some 20 km from Watsa town. An MSF-Belgium spokesman told IRIN earlier that the NGO, which has a team on the ground, would on Friday be joined by experts from Kinshasa after landing rights for their plane was agreed with the rebel authorities in the Watsa area. The area is under rebel control.

Chiluba "to work with" Gaddafi

Zambian President Frederick Chiluba on Tuesday held talks in Libya with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi on the DRC crisis. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and President Laurent-Desire Kabila of the DRC recently signed a peace accord in Sirte, Libya, which Rwanda refused to acknowledge, stating that Chiluba's peace initiative was the only one it recognised. Libyan television on Tuesday quoted Chiluba as saying he would work with Gaddafi "to implement the [Sirte] agreement".

"Debate" postponed to allow preparations

The proposed "national debate" between the government of the DRC, rebels and civil society was postponed to 14 May to allow the host country, Kenya, to prepare adequately, diplomatic sources told IRIN. The talks were set to take place from 8-15 May in Nairobi. "Preparations for over two hundred people is not easy. We realised the time was too short for the host to make necessary preparations," a source at the DRC embassy in Nairobi told IRIN on Monday.

Humanitarian operations in North Kivu

Some 46,000 children were immunised against polio and 35,500 against measles during April under two UNICEF-supported vaccination campaigns organised in North Kivu province, according to the latest monthly report from the Office of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the DRC. The report, received by IRIN, said that WHO and UNICEF, working with MSF and ICRC, were currently building up stocks of vaccines and other supplies in response to a continuing meningitis epidemic in the province, particularly in Walikale. Some 20,400 internally-displaced persons and malnourished children received supplementary and therapeutic feeding in Goma through a WFP-funded programme, it added.

UNHCR announced this week it would reopen its office in Goma. The office was closed in October 1997. One of the objectives would be to assess the situation of Rwandans who had remained in the heavily forested region since the camps were broken up in late 1996. The refugees scattered westwards and an estimated 173,000 remained unaccounted for, a UNHCR spokesman said.

Traditional chiefs "marginalised" by Mayi-Mayi "warlords"

Regional analysts told IRIN that tension between Congolese Hutu and Mayi-Mayi militia and between Banyamulenge and Rwandans persisted in North Kivu. "Warlords" were emerging among the Mayi-Mayi, who were reportedly recruiting ex-FAR and Interahamwe in the province. This trend has weakened the position of traditional chiefs, who appeared to be gradually marginalised within their communities, the sources said.

Purchasing power decreases by one third since war

A recent study conducted by FAO and UNDP in Kinshasa indicates a high increase in food insecurity since August 1998 linked to a reduction in supply sources due to the war, lack of currency for importing goods, a shortage of fuel, high inflation and rising unemployment, among other factors. An FAO report received by IRIN said the rapid study showed that the purchasing power of the city's population since the outbreak of the war had diminished by 30-35 percent. While it was estimated that some US $550 were required to cover minimum dietary needs of one resident per year, recent surveys have shown that people were now consuming only US $261 worth of food, the report said.

TANZANIA: Uganda, Rwanda call for DRC ceasefire

The presidents of Uganda and Rwanda met in Tanzania on Tuesday in an attempt to resolve a rift over their military campaign in DRC, Reuters reported, quoting Tanzanian officials. According to the officials, Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa was trying to "bridge the gap" between the two countries over "what to do next". A joint communique issued on Wednesday called for a ceasefire and an "all-inclusive" national dialogue in DRC, news organisations said. Some analysts have observed that Uganda would like to pull out of the DRC, whereas Rwanda "has more at stake" in that country.

UGANDA: Donors demand cutbacks in defence spending

Donors have called on the Ugandan government to cut down on its defence expenditure, which they say has risen to over two percent of GDP in the current fiscal year, compared with the 1.9 percent budgeted for. An analysis by 'Oxford Analytica' found that the government's war against domestic insurgent groups, together with its military involvement in the DRC, had resulted in an increase in defence spending from US $150 million in 1997-98 to US $350 million in 1999. Diplomatic sources confirmed to IRIN that this had caused concern for some time, because "it usurped funds designated for social welfare projects". A senior official in the defence ministry denied there had been any over-spending. "There is no expenditure out of the normal, there is no evidence," he told IRIN.

EU deplores execution of 28 prisoners

The European Union on Tuesday said it "deeply regrets" last Thursday's hanging of 28 convicted criminals in Luzira prison, Kampala, and that the death penalty risked increasing the level of violence in society. An EU presidency statement said that while it supported Uganda's fight against crime and terrorism, it "did not recognise the effectiveness of capital punishment as a way to prevent crime" and regretted that its efforts to have the death sentences commuted went unheeded.

RWANDA: Government hails Swiss court decision

The Rwandan government has hailed the life imprisonment sentence handed down by a Swiss court to a genocide suspect, Rwandan radio reported. Justice Minister Jean de Dieu Mucyo said an important step had been taken in the pursuit of genocide suspects who fled abroad. The government hoped that other countries would follow Switzerland's example. A court in Lausanne last Friday handed down the sentence on Fulgence Niyonteze, the former mayor of Mushubati commune in Gitarama prefecture, for crimes committed during the 1994 genocide. Niyonteze has appealed against the ruling.

BURUNDI: Peace accord by June "unrealistic"

The International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think tank, noting the international community has made the resumption of aid to Burundi conditional on the signing of a peace accord, has pointed out that the timetable of the Arusha peace process is "unrealistic". In its latest analysis of the situation in Burundi, ICG said Burundian diplomacy is now focused on a single objective - resuming international cooperation. "After five years of war, two and a half years of embargo and with no international assistance, the state coffers are empty and the socio-economic situation is catastrophic," the report stated.

Slight fall in market prices, devaluation of franc

According to FAO, the price of an average family's food basket has fallen slightly since the embargo was lifted but it still remains nearly twice as high as before the sanctions were imposed. At the same time, the value of the Burundi franc continues to drop, due to a severe shortage of foreign currency in the country.

Concern as army worms spread

The army worm invasion affecting the Kirundo, Ruyigi and Muyinga regions of Burundi since mid-April threatens to significantly reduce agricultural production throughout the country, FAO said on Tuesday. An FAO mission to affected areas found that a mass of army worms covering an estimated 20,000 hectares appeared to be moving westwards and that climatic conditions were conducive for the rapid spread of the infestation.

REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Thousands return to Brazzaville

Some 10,000 displaced people have returned to southern areas of Brazzaville, humanitarian sources told IRIN on Thursday. The return to the Bacongo and Makelekele areas of the capital began in earnest at the weekend, mostly from the Pool region. The two districts were emptied during fierce fighting between government and rival militia forces in December and January. In accordance with a government programme, the displaced people are now being transported back to their home area by the Congolese army. Humanitarian organisations say many of them are in a poor nutritional state and warn that the capacity to assist them could be limited if the return becomes an influx. An estimated 200,000 displaced people are believed to be in the Pool region and they are currently returning at the rate of 1,500 to 2,000 a day.

Lissouba indicted on treason charges

Meanwhile, the country's transitional parliament has indicted ousted president Pascal Lissouba on charges of high treason, Reuters reported. The two charges relate to a 1993 shooting of opposition militants and a deal reached the same year on cut-price oil sales to the US Occidental Petroleum Corporation, the agency said. Lissouba now lives in exile.

SUDAN-ERITREA: Reconciliation agreement signed

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan and Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki on Sunday signed an agreement aimed at settling the five-year dispute between the two countries, news agencies reported. The agreement, brokered by Qatar and signed in the capital Doha, strives to restore diplomatic ties, halt negative media campaigns and stop support to each other's opposition movements, Qatar's Al-Jazeera television said. Omar Nureldayem, secretary-general of Sudan's Umma Party and member of the leadership council of the Sudanese opposition coalition group National Democratic Alliance (NDA), told IRIN on Monday that the effect of the agreement on the Asmara-based NDA "remains to be seen." Nureldayem said Eritrean authorities have invited the NDA leadership council to a meeting, to be held in Asmara on 24 May, to "thrash out all problems and discuss our future relations and other issues."

Eritrea denies bombing Rasai

Asmara has denied that its forces shelled a Sudanese village along the countries' joint border. A report in a Sudanese government-owned newspaper, 'Al Anbaa', said the attack took place in the Rasai region, but the BBC on Thursday quoted an Eritrean government spokesman as saying the report was totally false and made no sense in the wake of Sunday's reconciliation accord.

SUDAN: SPLM not ready for talks next Monday

The rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) had yet to receive official word about the reconvening of the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) peace talks in Nairobi, but has said it would have difficulty in starting next Monday as has been mooted. SPLA spokesman Dr Samson Kwaje told IRIN on Tuesday that the selection of a date for talks could not be up to Khartoum but must involve all the parties involved. His response comes in the wake of a report on Tuesday in the 'Al-Rai al-Aam' daily in Khartoum that the government had agreed to hold talks in Nairobi next Monday.

SPLA warns oil companies

The SPLM/A on Tuesday warned oil companies against investment in the industry while the war lasted, saying it considered them legitimate targets. A statement by SPLM/A spokesman Dr Samson Kwaje said oil investments would not be of economic benefit to the Sudanese people but would rather escalate the civil war against the people of southern Sudan, "from whose soil the oil is being vandalised". The statement said the Khartoum government and its main partner, Talisman Energy Company of Canada, were putting out false propaganda about the safety of investments but the SPLA said it could strike at any time and considered oil works, "including personnel and assets", as legitimate military targets.

Government accuses rebels of violating cease-fire

Khartoum on Monday accused southern rebels of violating a ceasefire by attacking an army convoy. Rebels ambushed the convoy in the southwestern Bahr al-Ghazal province, General Mohammed Osman Yassin told the state-run Omdurman Radio. He did not mention casualties or say when the clashes took place. Meanwhile, a Sudanese government plane on Tuesday bombed the compound of an NGO, Operation Save Innocent Lives (OSIL), in Yei wounding one person and destroying property worth over US $10,000. According to a UNICEF press release issued on Wednesday, six bombs fell on the compound injuring one of 25 trainees who were attending a mine awareness workshop organised by UNICEF and OSIL.

Meningitis outbreak "outstripping all previous epidemics"

The current meningitis outbreak in Sudan is "outstripping all previous epidemics" and the current hot, dry weather means it will probably continue to spread rapidly, putting more than a million people at risk, IFRC said this week. "The current need is for vaccine; we need donors to cover an extra 1,370,000 vaccine doses for the extension of the operation," IFRC spokesman John Sparrow told IRIN on Tuesday. "We will hopefully see it wane within weeks but at the moment there is no let-up", Sparrow said.

SOMALIA: Eritrea denies arms shipment to Merka

A large consignment of heavy arms and troops which arrived in the Somali port of Merka on Tuesday is reported to have originated in Eritrea. The shipment, allegedly to Somali militia leader Hussein Aideed and the Ethiopian rebel Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) which he supports, "represents Eritrea's growing involvement with proxy Ethiopian and Somali factions for its war with Ethiopia", regional analysts told IRIN on Thursday. However, a spokesman at the Eritrean embassy in Nairobi denied as "completely false" reports that it had any involvement with arming Somali factions.

UNHCR to consider voluntary repatriations from Kenya

UNHCR is to look at the possibility of Somali refugees' voluntary return from camps in Kenya to their own country, the agency said on Tuesday, after Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi claimed they were contributing to crime and insecurity. A UNHCR spokeswoman told IRIN: "We are going to be looking into ways of supporting the government's efforts in maintaining security, and also look at the possibilities for the voluntary return for refugees to safe parts of Somalia." Kenya is hosting 108,000 Somali refugees in three camps in northeast Kenya.

UNICEF immunises over 80,000 children against measles

UNICEF has immunised more than 80,000 malnourished and internally displaced children against measles in southern Somalia and, with improved access to the Bay and Bakool areas, has revised its immunisation target upward to 200,000 children, a UNICEF Somalia spokeswoman told IRIN on Wednesday.

ETHIOPIA: "Famine conditions" reported in Welo

The 1999 belg agricultural season is likely to be a complete failure, seriously impacting food availability for hundreds of thousands of people in parts of Tigray, Welo and Shewa, a UN report said. The report cited government estimates indicating that about one million people dependent on the harvest would now require urgent relief support, at least until the main meher season in November/December. In parts of north Welo, household food reserves were now exhausted, people were leaving their homes in search of relief aid and alarming reports of famine conditions were emerging, with many farmers "poorer and more vulnerable to famine now than they were 15 years ago," the report said.

Aid worker "pardoned", but not yet freed

The "pardon" of a kidnapped French aid worker by an Ethiopian rebel group on Tuesday has not yet brought about his release, Action Contre la Faim (ACF) and the French authorities confirmed to IRIN on Wednesday. The rebel Ethiopian group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), based in the Somali region of eastern Ethiopia, said on Tuesday it had "pardoned" Eric Couly and urged French diplomats to collect him from the Ogaden region because it would "neither hand him over to Ethiopia nor send him to another place."

CENTRAL AND EASTERN AFRICA: UN humanitarian funding "poor"

OCHA has released the latest funding figures for UN inter-agency consolidated humanitarian appeals for 1999. The regional appeal for the Great Lakes is only 27 percent funded, while additional appeals for individual countries in the region are funded from a level of only two percent up to 12 percent. A UN Great Lakes official told IRIN the "poor" results show the weak "drawing power" of the region compared to other crises, despite well over three million people being affected by the central African crises. "It's not like Kosovo's the only thing happening," he said.

Nairobi, 7 May 1999, 14:00 gmt


Date: Fri, 7 May 1999 17:00:20 +0300 (EAT) From: IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <> Subject: CENTRAL AND EASTERN AFRICA: IRIN-CEA Weekly Round-up 18-1999 [19990507]

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

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