Great Lakes: IRIN Weekly Round-up, 9/12/97

Great Lakes: IRIN Weekly Round-up, 9/12/97


Department of Humanitarian Affairs

Integrated Regional Information Network

for the Great Lakes

Tel: +254 2 622147

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[The weekly roundup is based on IRIN daily updates and other relevant information from UN agencies, NGOs, governments, donors and the media. IRIN issues these reports for the benefit of the humanitarian community, but accepts no responsibility as to the accuracy of the original sources.]

IRIN Weekly Roundup 21-97 of Main Events in the Great Lakes region, covering the period 5-11 September 1997

[Please note IRIN's weekly round-ups will now be issued every Friday, covering the preceding week. Daily updates will be issued Monday to Friday.]

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Relations with UN deteriorate further

Relations between the DRC and UN deteriorated sharply with the UNHCR suspending operations in the country following Kinshasa's forcible repatriation of Rwandan refugees and the UN Security Council expressing mounting anger over delays preventing a UN human rights investigating mission from starting work.

UNHCR suspends operations

Reflecting growing international anger with the government of President Laurent-Desire Kabila, the UNHCR on Tuesday suspended its operations in the country. High Commissioner Sadako Ogata cited deteriorating respect for human rights and humanitarian principles by some regional governments. The UNHCR's offices in Kisangani and Shabunda are to be closed and the agency's presence in Goma and Bukavu will be reduced and will only be resumed if the DRC gives suitable guarantees of observance of relevant conventions and safety of humanitarian workers. UNHCR will remain in Mbandaka to assist Burundian refugees and Rwandan refugees in Congo (Brazzaville). The agency's move was prompted by last week's forcible repatriation by the DRC authorities to Kigali of Rwandan and Burundian refugees -- an act the UNHCR described as disgusting.

Kabila welcomes pull-out, denies UNHCR accusations

Kabila derided the UNHCR move, saying the withdrawal provided the "best opportunity for the Congolese people to live in total freedom." Interviewed by state television upon his return from a visit to Rwanda, he described the UN experience as the "sum total of all the conspiracies against our sovereignty". He described DRC's relations with the UN as "one of the worst experiences of our people".

Kabila denied his country had expelled the refugees and maintained it had simply complied with UNHCR requests. News organisations reported him as telling a Wednesday press conference in Kigali the DRC "was doing what the UN asked, namely to return the refugees to their country of origin. You can't ask us one day to repatriate the refugees, and the next to keep them."

Bonino "disheartened" by DRC response

EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Emma Bonino on Thursday she was "disheartened but not suprised" by Kabila's comments regarding UNHCR. In a statement, she described his attitude as "dismissive". A spokesman for Bonino pointed out that UNHCR's departure from DRC could trigger the withdrawal of other aid agencies. Those who remained would be working in very difficult conditions, the spokesman added.

Rwanda condemns UNHCR move

Rwanda condemned the move by UNHCR, describing it as "either not informed...or she [Ogata] has some other imaginary reasons behind the whole thing". Spokesman Emmanuel Ndahiro told Reuters the Rwandan authorities would summon the UNHCR representative in Kigali for explanations. Ogata said she would send a high-level delegation to Rwanda to find out what had happened to returning refugees.

UN mission still in Kinshasa

After more than two weeks of delays, optimisim a UN investigative team might finally be able to leave Kinshasa and start work again proved unfounded. A UN spokesman announced a meeting with Minister for National Reconstruction and Emergency Relief Etienne Mbaya slated for Wednesday had been rescheduled for late Thursday. According to the spokesman, the team now planned to leave on Saturday for its first site visit. The Security Council discussed the issue on Monday and again urged the government to cooperate with the probe. Current Security Council president Bill Richardson previously told reporters patience with DRC over the human rights investigation was running out.

Meanwhile, four members of the team arrived in the northern Congolese (Brazzaville) town of Loukolela to visit Rwandan refugees there, the UN spokesman said. They would spend three days there, talking to refugees who had travelled right across DRC territory before crossing the river into Congo.

Fighting reported in eastern DRC

Fighting returned to much of eastern DRC with press reports talking of a "resumption of war". 'La Tempete des Tropiques' said the death toll from fighting between Mai Mai militia and the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL) was estimated at 1,000, mostly in the towns of Masisi, Walikale, Kalehe and Goma. It quoted the DRC human rights group AZADHO as saying a reason for the upsurge in violence was the large influx of people coming from Rwanda to the Masisi and Rutshuru areas where they benefited from ADFL support. Coupled with this was the recent nomination of mostly ethnic Tutsis for local government posts. The DRC government has reportedly established a commission of enquiry to deal with the crisis. Interior Affairs Minister Mwenze Kongolo said the commission's mandate was to "bring peace to the regions of north and south Kivu". Congolese radio said the commission would be composed of 32 members and a coordination committee of eight members. Two further committees, each comprising of 12 members, will be created in each region in order to promote reconciliation between ethnic communities.

Government reinforcements take up position

Humanitarian sources reported the presence of about 2,500 ADFL soldiers in the Kahuzi National park area poised to retake the town of Bunyakiri, northwest of Bukavu, from the Mai-Mai. Unconfirmed reports suggest part of this contingent may be made up of Rwandan soldiers. Throughout the week overnight shooting was reported in both Goma and Bukavu. Humanitarian sources in Goma told IRIN shooting broke out on Monday with the arrival of 10th brigade Congolese troops allegedly to replace Rwandan soldiers in the area. Six people are reported to have been killed since Thursday night. Further south, sources said soldiers were setting up heavy artillery positions at Tshibanda, about 35 km from Bukavu. The Bukavu-Uvira road has become a no-go area, with frequent bandit attacks and regular harassment of aid agencies reported. On Thursday night, the Bukavu airport military commander and his bodyguard were shot dead in a car ambush, although details of the attack are sketchy. Confrontations between Mai-Mai militia and DRC troops are also said to be on the increase. (See IRIN Background Brief on Kivu 10 September 1997).

During a visit to Rwanda, Kabila stressed the need to "crush pockets of harmful forces" which he said were regrouping in the region. His Rwandan counterpart Pasteur Bizimungu expressed gratitude to Kabila for helping Rwanda "get rid of the evil forces that were poised to return... to finish off the genocide.

Ousted leader Mobutu dies in exile Ex-Zairean president Mobutu Sese Seko died in exile from prostate cancer on Sunday after a long illness. Mobutu fled to Rabat, Morocco, in May after being ousted from power by forces loyal to current DRC leader Laurent-Desire Kabila, but spent most of his time there in hospital as his health failed. He was 66 when he died and reportedly weighed a mere 40 kg.

Information Minister Raphael Ghenda was quoted by Congolese radio as saying the former leader would be buried in DRC, complying with a request by Mobutu's family for the remains to be brought home.

UN says death marks end of an era

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent condolences to Mobutu's family. A UN spokesman said Mobutu's death marked the passing of an era and the international community must now focus on helping the new DRC government cope with the "staggering challenges that it has inherited".

South African President Nelson Mandela said Mobutu had been deserted by his one-time backers, a clear reference to the United States and France, and should have been allowed to die at home. Kabila, his successor, agreed. In comments broadcast by DRC television, Kabila said he told Mobutu to stay in his country, return to his village and live there. "Bring back everything you stole from Zaire and you will not be harmed," Kabila said he told Mobutu. "You are sick and you should stay in your country instead of fleeing..."

Border security with Rwanda to be strengthened

Rwanda and DRC pledged to reinforce security on their common border at the end of Kabila's visit to Kigali on Wednesday. In a joint statement, reported by Rwandan radio, they agreed to set up a security commission to monitor the border and stamp out smuggling. Both sides condemned "elements who wanted to mislead the international community on the repatriation issue," the radio said.

CONGO-BRAZZAVILLE: Sassou Nguesso forces reportedly control north

Militia loyal to ex-president Denis Sassou Nguesso are reported to be in full control of north and central Congo. Pro-Sassou Nguesso radio on Wednesday claimed his troops had taken Owando, the most important city in the north. Heavy fighting has been reported in the city between Sassou Nguesso's Cobra militia and the forces of President Pascal Lissouba. The radio also accused Brazzaville mayor Bernard Kolelas - who had been mediating in the conflict - of going over to Lissouba's side after the president appointed him prime minister in a national unity government. A UN spokesman accused Lissouba of acting unilaterally in appointing Kolelas, pointing out there had been no consultation with mediators or with Sassou Nguesso.

RWANDA: "Gorillas in the Mist" orphanage attacked

Humanitarian sources said an indication of the worsening situation in northwest Rwanda was an attack against an orphanage in Gisenyi prefecture.The orphanage is run by an American woman Rosamund Carr [please note this corrects IRIN Update 246 of 11 Sep 97]. Carr is in her 80s and came to the area in the 1950s. She was featured in the film "Gorillas in the Mist". Her orphanage was generally regarded as a safe haven in the area. Many returnees had settled close by, believing it offered them some protection. A watchman was reported killed in the attack. Sources say the fighting in Gisenyi has led many local people to move to the Nkamira transit centre and the Petite Barriere camp in Gisenyi town.

BURUNDI: Burundian refugees driven home by DRC fighting

Fighting in eastern DRC is driving home about 100 Burundian refugees a day, according to UNHCR, quoted by Reuters. The UNHCR representative in Bujumbura said today 2,500 refugees had so far fled fighting near Fizi, arriving at the Gatumba transit centre on Burundi's border with DRC.

Moi backs sanctions

Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi yesterday expressed full support for the decision to maintain sanctions on Burundi reached by regional leaders at their meeting in Dar es Salaam last week. He said the Kenyan government had decided to lift the oil embargo against Burundi because "it was hurting the people", Thursday's 'Daily Nation' reported. Moi also asked the private Kenyan carrier, African Airlines, to immediately cease flights to Burundi. Tanzania has banned the airline from its airspace, accusing it of not divulging its true destination. SUDAN: Armed forces deny rebels advancing on Rokon town

The Sudanese armed forces have denied that rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) were advancing on the town of Rokon, near Juba, stressing that it was under government control. According to Sudanese radio, the army described Rokon as calm and peaceful. A Sudanese newspaper on Sunday claimed Ugandan troops and SPLA rebels were closing in on the town.

Garang refuses to talk to Bashir

SPLA leader John Garang on Thursday ruled out talks with President Omar al-Bashir and said the only possible peace initiative for Sudan was the IGAD (Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought) process. In a lengthy interview with rebel Voice of Sudan radio, he explained that his meeting with President Mandela in South Africa had been to "clear the air". He claimed Bashir's earlier visit to South Africa was aimed at "killing the IGAD peace mediation process and delivering the SPLM/SPLA to the NIF (National Islamic Front)." On military operations, Garang said the SPLA was aware the government was preparing a military offensive and that it "welcomed" this. "We will hit them very hard and it is our joy," he said.

SPLA strong militarily, Khartoum politically superior: 'Economist'

An article in 'The Economist' magazine noted that the SPLA currently is stronger and better disciplined than ever before, buoyed by support from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, DRC and USA. In addition, northern and southern opponents of the Khartoum government have come together under an umbrella organisation known as the National Democratic Alliance. Soldiers defecting from the government side have formed the Sudan Alliance Forces in the northeast where they are making spectacular gains, the article said. Diplomatically, the government has the upper hand by "talking peace and wooing its opponents", which culminated in a peace accord signed with six rebel factions in April. Garang may be outmanoeuvred politically by his apparent intransingency, the article concluded.

Nairobi, 12 September 1997, 11:00 gmt


Date: Fri, 12 Sep 1997 13:59:07 +0300 (GMT+0300) From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <> Subject: Great Lakes: IRIN Weekly Round-up 21-97 5-11 September 1997 97.9.12 Message-ID: <>

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

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