IRIN-CEA Weekly Round-up 33 [19990820]

IRIN-CEA Weekly Round-up 33 [19990820]

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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 33 covering the period 14-20 August 1999

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Fighting eases after Uganda-Rwanda deal

Four days of heavy fighting between Rwandan and Ugandan troops flared in Kisangani again earlier in the week. Civilian casualties were reported to be high, but the clashes were effectively over by Wednesday after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Rwandan Vice-President Paul Kagame on Tuesday agreed a ceasefire to take immediate effect.

A joint statement, received by IRIN, said the two leaders had also agreed modalities for the implementation of the ceasefire and a cessation of "verbal battles in the media by officials of either country". Museveni and Kagame also said they had agreed a common position on securing Congolese rebels' signatures to the Lusaka ceasefire, and affirmed their commitment to the peace agreement and cooperation with the ceasefire verification team. Unconfirmed media reports on Wednesday suggested that control of Kisangani rested with the Rwandan army, while informed sources claimed the Ugandan army had up to 200 soldiers killed in the fighting.

New army officers assigned to Kisangani

As part of the deal, Ugandan Army Commander Major General Jeje Odong and his Rwandan counterpart Brigadier Kayumba have been assigned to Kisangani, taking over from Ugandan Chief of Staff James Kazini and Rwandan Brigadier James Kabarebe, "with express orders to take control and oversee the implementation of the ceasefire", the Ugandan 'Monitor' newspaper reported. The two were jointly charged with reviewing the circumstances that led to the clashes and devising clear recommendations on how the crisis should be resolved, media sources reported.

The Ugandan military has also denied Rwandan claims on Tuesday that they had captured Major Reuben Ikondere, security chief for Wamba dia Wamba, leader of the RCD-Kisangani faction that it supports, claiming instead that he was safe with Ugandan colleagues in Kisangani, news agencies reported.

The latest fighting started on Saturday between forces of the two countries, traditional allies but supporting different factions of the rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD), over whether RCD-Goma leader Emile Ilunga, backed by Rwanda, or RCD-Kisangani head Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, supported by Uganda, should sign the Lusaka accord and represent the rebel movement.

Kabila skips SADC summit meeting

Meanwhile, Congolese President Laurent Desire Kabila on Tuesday left the Mozambican capital, Maputo, a day after arriving for a summit meeting of the 14-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. Officials of the DRC delegation, some of whom have remained in Maputo, said Kabila flew out citing "pressing problems at home". South African news reports said he held meetings with the three heads of state backing his government in the war: Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola and Namibia's Sam Nujoma prior to his sudden departure. Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu and Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni were expected to brief the SADC summit on the strife in Kisangani and the current state of the Lusaka process.

But the heads of state at the summit went on to adopt an optimistic tone on the prospects for peace when they said they had received new commitments from the Ugandan and Rwandan governments that they would observe the terms of the Lusaka ceasefire. SADC had invited Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu to brief them on the fighting in Kisangani, eastern DRC, even though they were not official members of the community.

Human Rights Watch bemoans "callous disregard" for civilians

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch on Wednesday expressed grave concern at the widespread shelling and fierce fighting which had turned the streets of Kisangani, eastern DRC, into battlefields. It expressed particular concern that, with the headquarters of the RCD-Kisangani faction is at the Hotel Wagenia, in the centre of town, residents in this heavily populated area had been placed in a deadly crossfire zone. Dozens of civilians were reported dead and many more injured, in addition to the heavy military casualties, before Tuesday's truce was agreed.

"The war had already reduced the population in Kisangani to grinding poverty, said Suliman Baldo, the Congo researcher at the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "The parties to the current fighting are placing civilians in mortal danger - with food, medical supplies and other essentials reaching dangerously low levels." The organisation condemned what it called the callous disregard for civilian life shown by Rwandan and Ugandan forces in Kisangani. "International humanitarian law provides for the protection of civilians and materials essential to their survival, including electric power, foodstuffs and drinking water," Baldo noted. He also urged the international community and humanitarian agencies to intervene more forcefully to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population in Kisangani.

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.

Immunisation cover good during days of relative tranquillity

Humanitarian organisations involved in the mass polio immunisation campaign from Friday to Sunday said on Wednesday the exercise was "successful" and that almost 90 per cent of the country was covered, despite localised fighting in Kisangani. UNICEF officials in Nairobi said the coverage was "good" and that they had enjoyed the support of government and local health organisations. "People respected the days of tranquility, although fighting erupted in the Kisangani area. However, almost 70 per cent of Kisangani was covered," they said. Discussions were continuing with the relevant authorities in DRC to see if the 'Days of Tranquility' could be extended or if the remaining uncovered areas could be included in the next phase of the mass immunisation process, the officials 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.

Over 50,000 displaced in Katanga identified

A two-week assessment mission in northern Katanga identified more than 54,500 displaced persons in the area. The mission, sponsored by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), was the first for which the UN and its humanitarian partners had obtained "full and unconditional access" to areas affected by population displacement since the onset of war. Over 28,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) were registered in Lubumbashi, of whom only 3,300 area were being assisted, the team found, adding that the influx of IDPs into the area was continuing. An estimated 125,000 residents of Manono area were also believed to be dispersed in "hardly accessible" areas of Kiluba. High morbidity and mortality among children was reported in most displaced communities assessed.

The assessment mission noted that the coping mechanisms of host communities in Katanga were "seriously weakened" and they had difficulty supporting the displaced. Several IDPs and host communities were found to need protection from arbitrary displacements, extortion, looting by retreating military elements and reprisals by belligerents. Vulnerable unaccompanied minors constituted a significant proportion of many displaced communities.

In Nairobi on Wednesday, it was reported that the church's capacity to support "vulnerable populations" had been diminished by repeated looting and destruction since November 1998, but that the provincial Catholic Church had been identified as a viable partner for the implementation of emergency humanitarian interventions through its humanitarian branch, CARITAS. The mission team had proposed an immediate and 'medium short-term' $490,000 plan of action to stabilise the humanitarian situation in Katanga by providing emergency medical and food assistance, implementing family reunification activities, promoting respect for the rights of the displaced, and protecting them against arbitrary displacement.

UGANDA-RWANDA: Ugandan officials deny over 500 Rwandan refugees entry

Security officials in Mbarara district, southwestern Uganda, on Monday denied entry to some 580 Rwandan refugees who were reportedly expelled from Tanzania last month, the semi-official 'New Vision' newspaper said. "They were expelled from Tanzania, but what is unclear is why they flock into Uganda when there is no war in Rwanda," the paper quoted the area's security secretary Stephen Rwakanuma as saying.

The UNHCR in Kampala told IRIN on Wednesday it had registered 735 Rwandans from Tanzania since May and that these were refugees dispersed in Tanzanian villages during mass repatriation from the country in 1996. The refugees had been transferred recently to Nakivale refugee settlement in Mbarara district and sample interviews revealed that a majority come from the districts neighbouring Uganda, notably Karagwe, UNHCR said. The reasons given by the refugees for their flight included harassment from local authorities and destruction of their property by the local population in Tanzania, the agency added.

BURUNDI: Secretary-General condemns killing of innocent civilians

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday strongly condemned various incidents of violence committed recently in Burundi, particularly those that "resulted in the killing of innocent civilians by both rebel forces and government troops." He said he was particularly shocked by the attacks that occurred in Kanyosha and Ruziba in the province of Bujumbura Rurale on 10 and 12 August respectively, and called on both sides "to put an end to all attacks on the civilian population" and abide by international humanitarian law and principles. The Secretary-General also reiterated his support for the peace process, "in its internal and external dimensions", and called on all parties to cooperate with the facilitator, former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, to ensure progress.

Army dismisses Amnesty "lies" about civilian killings

The Burundian government on Wednesday dismissed as "lies" an Amnesty International report which condemned the country's army and rebels for killing some 600 people between last November and March this year. "This is not the first time that Amnesty International lie about Burundi or exaggerated reports based on a small issue," Burundian military spokesman Mamert Sinarinzi was quoted by the BBC as saying. "The report is based on lies because they do not have any investigator in Burundi", he added.

Malaria epidemic imposes a great burden

One hundred and one cases of cholera were reported in the country during the month of June, for which figures have just become available, but malaria remained the highest cause of morbidity in the population, with 182,529 cases reported from 25 reporting facilities, a WHO bulletin

received by IRIN on Wednesday stated. A cumulative total of almost 800,000 malaria cases was recorded between January and June, well up on comparative 1998 totals, while Karuzi province reported 34 deaths during the first two weeks of June alone, it said. WHO had responded by providing malaria drugs, strengthening the capacity to cope of health workers and continuing to track the disease, it added.

Half the cholera cases occurred in Rumonge district, mainly due to a lack of preventive measures and an inadequate potable water supply, the report stated, while Rwibaga district accounted for 266 of 374 typhus cases reported. Two hundred and seventy nine suspected cases of HIV-AIDS were recorded by hospitals and district health centres.

Government temporarily releases 169 suspects

Meanwhile, Burundi's State Prosecutor's office has "temporarily" released some 169 people accused of minor offences, Burundi news agency ABP said.

Quoting the State Prosecutor Gerard Ngendabanka, it said these people had been in "preventive detention" for more than two years and that they would appear before the courts while living at home. The release follows the conclusion of investigations launched recently launched by the justice ministry which said that some of the detainees had committed minor offences while others had incomplete files. More than 75 percent of 10,000 people in Burundian jails were preventive detention cases, and it was hoped to deal with at least 50 percent of these people before 1 September 1999, the report stated.

REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Women sexually abused as displaced people suffer violence

Many of the women among more than 20,000 people who have returned to Brazzaville in recent weeks have been victims of violence and over 300 were reported to have been raped, sometimes repeatedly, according to a humanitarian report received by IRIN on Thursday. Relief agencies belied the real number to be significantly higher, it added. Most of the returnees - from 200,000 people who fled the capital in December - were also in "extremely precarious health" and, in response, MSF, Action Contre la Faim and Caritas have established supplementary and therapeutic feeding centres to address the 40 percent global and 20 percent severe malnutrition rates among children and, more unusually, equally malnourished adults, the report stated.

In a related development, around 13,000 refugees fleeing fighting were identified in the Gabonese border province of Nyanga by an evaluation mission to the region. A significant influx of Congolese refugees has also been reported in Haut-Ogooue, Gabon, a country to which an estimated 20,000 refugees from the Republic of Congo have fled, the report added.

RWANDA: Court sentences two to death

A court in Rwanda's southwestern Cyangugu Prefecture on Tuesday sentenced two people to death for their involvement in the 1994 genocide, Rwandan News Agency reported on Wednesday. The two were part of a group of 16 accused of hunting down and massacring Tutsis in Kamembe commune, which borders the DRC, tried in the court. Five more of the accused were sentenced to life imprisonment, four to 20-year jail terms, one to 11 years imprisonment and four were acquitted, RNA said.

Former ministers plead not guilty to genocide charges

Meanwhile in Arusha two former cabinet ministers on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, and one had a not guilty plea entered on his behalf by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) after he failed to plead. Former Minister of Trade and Industry Justin Mugenzi and former Minister of the Civil Service Prosper Mugiraneza pleaded not guilty and the trial chamber entered the same plea for former Foreign Affairs Minister Jerome Bicamumpaka, a tribunal press release received by IRIN on Wednesday stated. The charges included eight counts of conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity, and a ninth of direct and public incitement to commit genocide. A fourth co-accused on the first eight, former Health Minister Casimir Bizimungu, could not plead because his American lawyer had not yet arrived in Arusha.

The prosecution alleged that the accused jointly participated in the planning, preparation or execution of a common plan to commit atrocities against ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus during the 1994 genocide, the ICTR press release stated. "The crimes were committed by them personally, by persons they assisted or by their subordinates, and with their knowledge and consent" the trial chamber was told. Mugenzi, Bicamumpaka and Mugiraneza were arrested in Cameroon on 6 April and transferred for trial to Arusha on 31 July.

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.

SUDAN: WFP resumes river barge convoys

WFP this week resumed its river operations after a three-month suspension, moving a four-barge relief convoy on Monday from Kosti on the White Nile in central Sudan to the Sobat area in the southern Upper Nile region. WFP Khartoum Representative Mohamed Saleheen said in a statement: "We are pleased to be able to resume this lifeline to reach over 60,000 hungry and waiting people." The convoy is carrying 1,063 mt of food, incuding wheat, grains, pulses and vegetables for people living in 30 locations along the Sobat River corridor.

Nairobi, 20 August 1999 11:00 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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