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IRIN Emergency Update No.71 on the Great Lakes (Friday 3 January 1997)
# Speculation about an imminent counter-offensive in rebel-held eastern Zaire increased after aid agencies were restricted access to Kisangani amid reports of the presence of white mercenaries there. Despite a Zairean government denial that a counter-offensive had been launched in Uvira, Rwandan radio yesterday quoted rebel leader Laurent Kabila as saying his troops had pushed back government troops in the Lake Tanganyika area. According to Kabila, fighting began late Sunday and lasted 10 hours. He said 76 soldiers and six rebels were killed.
Zaire yesterday warned of a "sweeping and crushing" counter-offensive "in the shortest possible time". A statement issued by Defence Minister General Likulia Bolongo announced that "any Zairean or foreign perpetrator who connives with the enemy" would not be spared. The statement added that army chief, General Mahele Lyoko, had been instructed to "recondition all military personnel". This included ridding the armed forces of "miscreants, cowards, looters and vagabonds", who would be "severely and spectacularly" punished by war councils. Mahele would be accorded all the necessary means for the counter-offensive, the statement said.
Residents of Bunia described fierce fighting there after a 12-hour battle on December 24 to wrest the town from government control. They said rebels of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) took the town and went on to capture nearby goldmines, Reuters reported yesterday. According to the rebels, their own forces sustained 75 casualties while 307 Zairean soldiers were killed. Bunia represents a significant strategic gain for the rebels with its all-weather airport, in addition to the mines. Reuters described the town as scarred by systematic looting over a three-week period rather than ravaged by recent battles, adding that fighting was heaviest around the airport.
Civilians fleeing Aru in eastern Zaire report that Zairean troops began looting the town on hearing news that the ADFL had taken Bunia, about 150 kms southwest, according to a report in the Ugandan state-owned New Vision newspaper on Wednesday. The civilians from Aru, which lies on the Zaire-Uganda border, had arrived in Paidah and Vurra in Uganda. The same report claimed that West Nile Bank Front rebels who had been based in Aru and Mahagi town in Zaire had begun to leave Zaire and search for bases in Uganda, fearing an ADFL advance.
The article also cited Ugandan security sources as saying the capture of Beni and Bunia airports by the Zairean rebels would prevent Ugandan ADF rebels, operating in the Ruwenzori mountains, from obtaining further supplies. Ugandan security sources claim that Sudan had been using the airports at Beni and Bunia to bring in supplies for the ADF fighters, who have been creating insecurity in the Bwera-Kasese area of Kabarole district, western Uganda, since mid-November last year.
# Talks between Uganda and Sudan planned for today have been postponed for the second time until after 10 January, the New Vision reported on Wednesday. The Iranian-mediated talks were originally due to take place in December but were put back following a request from the Iranian government. The second postponement follows a request fom Uganda due to the New Year holiday and the impending retreat of government officials to Mbarara, western Uganda, on Sunday.
# Four types of affected populations have been identified in the Shabunda and Lubutu regions of eastern Zaire. Firstly, there are the refugees - mostly Rwandan and a small number of Burundians - who claim to originate from camps in Uvira and Bukavu. They have now established unofficial camps along the Rwandan administrative structures of prefecture/commune, suggesting the presence of ex-FAR/Interahamwe forces. Secondly there are two distinct types of displaced people (IDPs): urban/long distance IDPs from rebel held urban centres, notably Bukavu, Uvira and routes along the way, and locally dispersed people from Lubutu and Shabunda. The first group tends to occupy houses abandoned by the locals or finds shelter with local people, while the second group, accustomed to periodic unrest, disperses into nearby forests until the danger has passed. The fourth category comprises local inhabitants who remain in their homes and face a worsening economic and food security situation due to the influx of people into their areas.
# The first two defendants in Rwanda's genocide trials were handed down the death sentence today. Deogratias Bizimana, a nurse, and former local government official Egide Gatanazi - neither of whom had defence lawyers - pleaded innocent to charges of taking part in the massacres at their trial in Kibungo on December 27. They have two weeks to appeal against the sentences. Another genocide suspect, businessman Froduald Karamira, described by the Rwandan authorities as a ringleader of the killings, is due to stand trial in Kigali on January 14. Karamira was arrested at Addis Ababa airport last June, and according to the current Rwandan government, he went on television and radio during the 1994 genocide inciting Hutus to kill Tutsis.
The UN Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda said that by December 27, the Rwandan authorities had arrested 2,609 genocide suspects from among over 460,000 refugees who returned from Tanzania in recent weeks. Many of them reportedly turned themselves in voluntarily for fear of reprisals by local people.
Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu urged Hutus and Tutsis in the country to work together to rebuild the nation. In his New Year message, he hailed the return of hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees and stressed the need now for living in harmony. Rwandan radio said Vice-President Paul Kagame called on the returnees to settle back with constructive ideas and plans. He said genocide suspects who had returned "should have enough courage to acknowledge their crimes and repent". Kagame also praised the start of genocide trials in Rwanda, saying concerted efforts were needed for justice to become effective.
# Burundi's presidential spokesman Jean-Luc Ndizeye yesterday indicated that the government's position remained unchanged and that Hutu rebels must renounce violence before the authorities would talk to them. President Buyoya, in his New Year address, had said peace talks would be held with all Burundians this month but Ndizeye stated the "national debate" would bring together all parties "except those that kill". The meeting, planned for the end of January, would focus on Burundi's political future, Ndizeye said. He added that the ceasefire declared unilaterally by Hutu rebels of the National Council for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD) over the Christmas and New Year period was "not respected at all, but that is not surprising". The army on Tuesday accused the rebels of ambushing a civilian minibus 35kms north of Bujumbura, killing one person and injuring another.
Beer and soft drinks prices have been increased in Burundi as a result of currency devaluation, Burundi radio reported yesterday. The director of commerce at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Nicodeme Nimenya, said Burundians were already paying the higher prices because of illegal measures by traders, and the government therefore intended to take action. A bottle of Primus beer will now cost 200 Burundi francs, up from 180 francs.
# The new UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in an interview with AFP, said he was preparing to appoint a special envoy for an "exploratory" mission to the Great Lakes region. He named Lakhdar Brahimi from Algeria as a possible contender and described the mission as crucial in deciding whether the UN should maintain a presence in the region, or keep an envoy based in New York to monitor the situation. Annan also said he favoured convening an international Great Lakes conference but warned that it would need careful preparation.
Nairobi, 3 January 1997, 13:30 gmt [ENDS]
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Date: Fri, 3 Jan 1997 16:40:31 +0300 From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <email@example.com> Subject: Great Lakes: IRIN Update 71 for 3 Jan 1997 97.1.3 Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.3.91.970103163535.3046Afirstname.lastname@example.org>
Editor: Ali Dinar, email@example.com