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IRIN-SA Weekly Round-Up 7 covering the period 11-18 Dec 1998

[Sierra Leone] No Children to go before the Special Court
No Children to go before the Special Court (SCSL-PressOffice)

ANGOLA: New humanitarian concerns amid grim fighting

After a week of intense fighting in Angola’s central highlands between government forces and the opposition UNITA movement, humanitarian workers said they were concerned for an estimated 70,000 people who sought refuge in the towns of Huambo and Kuito.

A spokesman for the UN Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit (UCAH) told IRIN on Thursday “everything possible is being done to assist them”. An estimated 25-30,000 people had sought shelter in Huambo, while in the Kuito district 120 km to the northeast and the scene of the heaviest fighting this week, an estimated 40,000 internally displaced persons had sought refuge.

Grenade attack reported

Angola’s official media, meanwhile, reported over 100 deaths and scores of wounded when a UNITA commando unit attacked people sheltering in a disused railway siding in the village of Kunje, some 7 km outside Kuito. The reports, which were not independently verified, said the commando unit had thrown a grenade and then opened fire with automatic weapons. In fighting which has been described as the fiercest in Angola since the signing of the 1994 UN-brokered Lusaka Protocol peace accords, Western diplomats told IRIN that the towns of Huambo and Kuito were, however, firmly in government control.

Sources in the Angolan capital, Luanda, told IRIN that the fighting around Kuito which was shelled earlier in the week, appeared to have abated. UCAH said it hoped that this would now give the humanitarian community a new opportunity to provide help.

Non-essential humanitarian staff temporarily withdrawn
At the weekend, as the fighting intensified, UCAH said non-essential humanitarian staff working for the UN and NGOs had been temporarily withdrawn from Huambo, Kuito and other nearby towns. A spokesman said NGO staff from MSF-Belgium, ICRC, Concern, Care International and others were anxious to return to their assistance, de-mining and agricultural aid programmes as soon as possible.

A senior UCAH official added that local media reports claiming nothing was being done to provide humanitarian assistance were false. Although most agencies had been forced by the circumstances to temporarily withdraw non-essential personnel, he said emergency teams were engaged in talks with the government to devise a special relief plan for the weekend.

“The reality is that we still have humanitarian colleagues in Kuito who have been discussing a food relief plan with the government,” the UCAH official said. “Over the next 24 to 48 hours relief should be delivered.” He also denied reports that Kuito had run out of medical supplies: “Our MSF colleagues have left enough medical supplies to see Kuito through a serious war crisis sufficient for a month-and-a-half.” CARE has also ensured the provision of sufficient health kits for the area, while in Huambo the situation is similar.

Air transportation

At the height of the week’s fighting an Antonov An-12 cargo aircraft leased to the Angolan government had been shot down on Monday, probably by UNITA forces, shortly after it had taken off. It was brought down in the Cunhinga area 30 km outside Kuito. The government statement said the crew of five Ukrainians and five passengers aboard had died. The airport had remained closed since, but Huambo airport was open and ready for aid flights.

Ruling party congress endorses military action

Last Friday, the fourth congress of the governing MPLA party of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos endorsed a policy of breaking off contacts with UNITA and its leader Jonas Savimbi. It said it would adopt a military offensive aimed at the “internal isolation and neutralisation” of the movement with which it has been in conflict since independence in 1975.

Western diplomats told IRIN that the latest fighting had been more devastating because both sides were better armed and in possession of more sophisticated weaponry than previously.

Diamond sales boost UNITA capabilities

Meanwhile, a British-based environmentalist group said this week that much of UNITA’s new weaponry has been brought through the sale of diamonds to international traders.

The group, Global Witness, cited a trade that was thriving despite UN sanctions against UNITA imposed earlier this year because of its failure to implement the 1994 Lusaka Protocol.

“Diamonds have been UNITA’s major source of revenue during the 1990s - gaining (UNITA) an estimated US $3.7 billion between 1992 and 1998 - which has enabled them to re-arm and maintain supplies despite the UN-sponsored peace process,” it said. “UNITA has sold its diamonds on the unofficial, ‘outside’ market and has found willing buyers within the diamond industry.”

In June, the UN Security Council adopted an embargo on unofficial diamond exports from Angola, in the hope of cutting off funding to UNITA. Global Witness, however, said its investigations showed significant quantities of diamonds were still being exported and being flown out to neighbouring countries.

The report said Belgium had failed to enforce the embargo in Antwerp, one of the world’s major diamond trading centres and it also named the South African mining giant, De Beers.

ZIMBABWE: DRC intervention affordable

The Zimbabwe government has said that the cost of the country’s military intervention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was affordable under the current budget.

Responding to local media reports that the cost of maintaining an estimated 6,000 troops, aircraft and armoured vehicles was running into US $1 million a day, Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa insisted this week that the cost was affordable.

“So far the costs have been within the existing budget for 1997/98,” he said. Murerwa added that other allies in Southern Africa were helping meet the cost of Zimbabwe’s support for DRC President Laurent-Desire Kabila. Namibia, Chad and Angola have also sent troops to support Kabila. But he declined to say which nations were helping.

Zimdollar has lost half its value

Analysts recalled that the Zimbabwe dollar has lost half its value since soldiers were first sent to Congo in August, leading to massive price rises and violent street protests. Murerwa attributed the slide of the Zimbabwe dollar to low commodity prices and monetary speculation.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has postponed indefinitely a board meeting to consider further payments for Zimbabwe, in part because of the impact of its DRC intervention.

According to Zimbabwe news media, a recent Gallup poll commissioned by local rights groups, 70 percent of Zimbabweans are opposed to the intervention.

Former president under house arrest

Zimbabwe’s fugitive former president, Reverend Canaan Banana, returned to the country this week after ahead of a court appearance and was immediately placed under house arrest. He had slipped out of Zimbabwe before being convicted in absentia of 11 charges, including homosexual assault.

After a brief remand hearing on Wednesday, Banana told reporters he had been subjected to “political assassination”. He said he had left the country for Botswana and gone on to South Africa “because I was in possession of dangerous information which I had to share with my real friends.” The 62-year-old Methodist clergyman, who was Zimbabwe’s head of state from 1980-1987, met President Festus Mogae of Botswana and President Nelson Mandela of South Africa before returning.

Judge President Godfrey Chidyausiku ordered that he remain at his luxurious suburban home in Harare under police guard until the next court hearing on December 23 when he will appear for sentencing.

NAMIBIA-BOTSWANA: More Caprivi refugees

The number of Namibians fleeing secessionist tensions in the northern Caprivi Strip into Botswana has increased from 849 two weeks ago to 1,200, according to the UNHCR.

Many of the asylum-seekers, most of whom are being housed in the Dukwe refugee camp north of the capital Gaborone, claimed in interviews with Botswana officials that they were fleeing harassment and intimidation by Namibian state security forces.

The Botswana government said it hoped that Namibian officials due to visit Dukwe camp this week would persuade the majority of the refugees, including an additional 1,000 San bushmen who have not formally sought asylum, that it would be safe for them to return home.

However, some of those who have been crossing the border since late October include the former leader of Namibia’s opposition Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), Meshack Muyongo, Senator Francis Sizimbo, Caprivi Strip governor, John Mabuku, and a traditional leader, Boniface Mamila. Branded as “terrorists” by the Namibian government, they are currently in Gaborone where they are free on bail pending charges of entering the country illegally.

In an interview with AFP at the weekend, Botswana’s president, Festus Mogae, said: “None of the refugees will be forced to go back, and each case will be dealt with individually.”

NAMIBIA: WFP drought assistance

WFP has approved an emergency drought relief operation for
Namibia worth an estimated US $983,000.

In a statement to the IRIN office in Johannesburg, it said the assistance would include prepared meals for 10,000 children under the age of six at kindergartens and primary schools in drought-affected areas; school meals for a further 5,000 primary school children, and food-for-work rations for 10,000 adults and their dependants as part of a joint UN poverty reduction programme in the Onhangwena district bordering Angola.

The WFP statement said: “This emergency intervention aims to assist the government of Namibia protect some of the most vulnerable members of the population from hunger and malnutrition in rural areas affected by drought.” The drought, it explained, was associated with the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climatic events. The food aid would be distributed with the help of the government.

WFP said both Namibia and southern Angola had been affected by drought in the early months of 1998 which had wiped out crops and left many rural households without means of subsistence. Drought victims in southern Angola, it added,would receive assistance under a separate programme.

Dams half full

The WFP announcement coincided with a report by the Namibia Water Corporation (NamWater), which according to ‘The Namibian’ daily, said most dams around the nation currently hold between 30 and 50 percent of their capacity. Although supplies were adequate, it reported “a significant decrease” in water levels since the last rainy season in many parts of the country.

LESOTHO: Interim leaders named

The multi-party Interim Political Authority (IPA) this week elected two leading politicians to chair the body which will govern the mountain kingdom for the next 15 months until a general election.

At its first formal meeting, IPA delegates elected Dr Khauhelo Raditapole of the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) and Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane of the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) as co-chairmen of the IPA.

“The fact that in its first meeting, the IPA has elected the chair in a consensus demonstrates that the problems facing them in their work will be worked through,” said South Africa’s safety and security minister, Sydney Mufamadi. Mufamadi led a Southern African Development Community (SADC) to observe the launch of the IPA which was established after a South African-led SADC military intervention in Lesotho earlier this year.

Three South African soldiers die

Meanwhile, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) announced that three of its soldiers had died while on patrol in the Maluti mountains on the South African side of the border with Lesotho a week ago.

Analysts said the situation on the South Africa-Lesotho border has been tense because of intensified cross-border livestock thefts. Last Friday, the South African Press Association reported the deaths of three South African farmers in a clash with members of the Lesotho Defence Force. It said the three were among a group of 25 farmers who had crossed the border to track livestock rustlers.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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