IRIN Update No. 483 for Central and Eastern Africa (Wednesday 19 August 1998)

IRIN Update No. 483 for Central and Eastern Africa (Wednesday 19 August 1998)

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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IRIN Update No. 483 for Central and Eastern Africa (Wednesday 19 August 1998)

[For DRC, see also separate IRIN item today headlined "Zimbabwe says SADC to back Kabila"].

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Gunfire heard southwest of Kinshasa

Gunfire was reportedly heard overnight to the southwest of Kinshasa, according to residents of the city. The reports came as the government announced a counter-offensive in the west of the country, where rebels are in control of major towns and the Inga hydroelectric dam. Clashes were reported in the Songololo area, near Inga. However, media reports said it could not be ascertained who was reponsible for the gunfire, believed to come from heavy machineguns. AFP cited witnesses as saying they saw tracer fire near the state radio and television building in the capital. Kinshasa's streets were described as deserted today (Wednesday) after residents spent another night without electricity.

A diplomat in Kinshasa, quoted by the French daily 'Liberation' today, claimed about 1,000 young people had been armed by the government with weapons from China and Zimbabwe. The same diplomat also predicted that "this time there will be violence" in the capital. According to the Belgian daily 'De Standaard', Kabila had replaced the ousted Rwandan military advisers with Cubans. A recent analysis by the Kampala-based Pan-African Movement claimed Kabila had wanted a "crack Rwandan unit" to remain in DRC, but Kigali refused which reportedly led to the ordering out of all Rwandan troops.

Karaha claims Kabila has fled, government denies

A key member of the rebellion, former foreign minister Bizima Karaha, yesterday (Tuesday) claimed President Laurent-Desire Kabila had fled Kinshasa after "looting the Central Bank". Several of his ministers had left with him, Karaha added in an interview for AFP. He said he believed a counter-offensive was "impossible". However, DRC Information Minister Didier Mumengi described reports that Kabila had fled as "rubbish".

Meanwhile, foreign ministers from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Namibia - charged with negotiating a ceasefire in the conflict - visited rebel leaders in Goma yesterday to "determine whether there has been a foreign invasion", according to Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister Stanislas Mudenge.

Another leading figure in the rebellion, opposition politician Arthur Z'Ahidi Ngoma was quoted as saying he did not believe a "responsible African country" could support "Kabila's dictatorship". Rebel military commander, Jean-Pierre Ondekane, said he had taken the ministers to Goma town, the airport and to Sake "to show them there are no foreign troops".

"Rebel" Bunia radio calls for unity

Bunia radio, now in rebel hands, yesterday broadcast calls for unity. The radio, when still controlled by the government last week, had broadcast hate messages, urging the "massacre" of Tutsis. Soon after, the town of Bunia - on the border with Uganda - was captured by the rebels and the radio yesterday told its listeners they should "feel proud about the current liberation from dictatorship". "The liberation will never bring about hatred among the liberators and the liberated people," the radio said.

Mounting concern over fate of Congolese Tutsis

The Ugandan 'New Vision' daily yesterday said the bodies of 150 Congolese Tutsi soldiers were discovered in Bunia, allegedly massacred by retreating government forces. It said the Tutsi soldiers had been rounded up from various parts of eastern DRC.

Human Rights Watch has expressed alarm over the fate of about 800 Tutsis in Kinshasa, who have been rounded up by the authorities and are being held at the Kokolo military camp. In a statement issued yesterday, the organisation said they had been denied access to their families and some of them had been summarily executed. According to HRW, a promise by DRC Human Rights Minister Leonard Okitundu to allow the ICRC access to the detainees on Monday did not materialise. HRW urged the Congolese authorities to "authorise their (Tutsis) immediate departure to third countries".

HRW also called on the rebels advancing towards Kinshasa to "abstain from attacking objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population". OCHA has expressed concern over the "deteriorating humanitarian situation" in parts of Kinshasa following the disruption of power and water supplies. It said UNICEF, ICRC and NGOs were distributing water purification tablets and providing medical assistance to reduce the risk of water-borne diseases.

BURUNDI: Meeting on reconstruction, development opens in Ottawa

Talks on reconstruction and development in Burundi begin in the Canadian city of Ottawa tomorrow, diplomatic sources told IRIN today. The meeting, bringing together donors and Burundi government ministers, is also attended by peace process mediator, former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere. A media source told IRIN the meeting was part of an international effort to promote peace in the country. The external Arusha peace process is due to resume in October.

80 killed in past week, press agency says

The Inter Press Service news agency noted that the DRC crisis has overshadowed events in Burundi where, it says, over 80 people have been killed in the past week. Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Isaie Nibizi said there had been fighting between the army and rebels in the northern Bubanza and Kayanza provinces, as well as in Makamba and Muyinga in the south. However, he claimed the rebels preferred to "hit soft targets" such as schools, settlements, old people and children. Alongside FDD and PALIPEHUTU rebels, were Rwandan Interahamwe militia members and ex-FAR troops, Nibizi said.

Speculators bumping up fuel prices

The Agence burundaise de presse says speculators in Gitega are taking advantage of the DRC conflict to boost petrol prices, following a shortage of fuel which had been supplied through Congo. Petrol was reportedly being sold covertly at night by "travelling retailers" supplied by authorised petrol stations, ABP said. "The current chaotic situation" had caused anger among local residents who demanded that the provincial authorities take measures to stop the speculators, the agency added.

RWANDA: Ex-FAR officer sentenced to death

A military court in Kigali yesterday sentenced to death an ex-FAR officer, Rwandan radio reported. It said Captain Isidore Musemakweri was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity in 1994. Two other ex-FAR members were sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has increased security in and around its premises in Arusha, following the recent bomb blasts in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the independent Hirondelle news agency reported. A circular issued on Monday warned ICTR staff of a "very real danger" of receiving letter bombs and provided some precautionary measures in identifying suspicious mail.

SUDAN: Wau food distribution reaches nearly 71,000 beneficiaries

WFP reported that a general food distribution in Wau, the capital of Bahr el-Ghazal province, was completed on 13 August to 70,938 registered beneficiaries. A total of 650 mt of food was distributed over the period 1-13 August. In its daily report on Sudan, the UN agency noted that 485 new arrivals were registered in Wau between 13 and 16 August. It added that 2,933 displaced persons were attending the WFP/CARE wet feeding programme in Wau and that the number of beneficiaries had increased following the opening of a third feeding centre.

WFP planes at disposition of NGOs

A WFP spokeswoman told IRIN today that WFP planes would henceforth be at the disposition of NGOs for airdropping food in south Sudan. She described the move as a "positive step forward". It was a "concerted effort" to help NGOs, aimed at maximising use of the WFP fleet, which currently had 14 aircraft available each month. NGOs would be able to book time on WFP aircraft on a cost recovery basis which would considerably reduce their costs, she added.

Displaced children at risk in Panthou, says MSF

Displaced children in the famine-stricken area of Panthou in Bahr el-Ghazal, are at extreme risk of death, according to a press release issued today by MSF. A nutritional and mortality survey showed that displaced children in Panthou are almost 17 times more likely to die of starvation or starvation-related illness than resident children of the area. It reports a death rate of 43.8 deaths per 10,000 people per day for displaced children under the age of five versus 2.6 deaths for 10,000 people per day for resident children under the age of five. The overall level of malnutrition among children under the age of five in Panthou is 53.4 percent. "This survey shows just how much more vulnerable displaced people are", the MSF medical coordinator in Panthou declared. MSF is planning to open feeding centers in Ajac and Tieralet in order to prevent further displacement to Panthou.

Nairobi, 19 August 1998, 15:15 gmt


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

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