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IRIN-SA Weekly Round-Up 8 covering the period 18-24 Dec 1998

ANGOLA: Central highlands tense

Humanitarian agencies battled this week to provide relief for tens of thousands of people who fled to the towns of Huambo and Kuito to escape heavy fighting between the government and UNITA opposition movement in the central highlands.

Emergency aid deliveries in Kuito were temporarily disrupted on Tuesday after the government-held town was shelled. Humanitarian sources in the capital Luanda told IRIN they had heard from representatives in Kuito that the shelling had last several hours. An initial toll put the number of dead at five with an estimated 40 wounded.

Radio reports in Angola and Portugal said Kuito, where 8,000 displaced people have been receiving emergency assistance, had been hit by long-range artillery fired from a UNITA stronghold 17 km away. The city had been reported quiet and under government control for several days after fierce fighting on its outskirts between UNITA and government troops last week.

Airport may reopen

The humanitarian sources said the city was still not accessible by road and that the airport had remained shut since a government-chartered cargo aircraft was shot down 10 days ago. On Wednesday, however, Radio Angola said General Joao de Matos, chief of staff of the Angolan Armed Forces, flew to Kuito to visit military units, raising hopes, it said, that the airport could soon re-open for aid deliveries.

In the city of Huambo, 120 km to the southwest where more than 30,000 displaced people have sought shelter, WFP delivered its first consignments of food aid this week. “The airport there is open, and we were able to airlift supplies in on Tuesday,” a spokeswoman told IRIN.

Government criticises UN, international community

Meanwhile, Angola’s national radio this week broadcast a statement adopted on Tuesday by the Council of Ministers’ Standing Commission saying it was “concerned at the passive and complacent manner in which the international community witnessed UNITA’s repeated failures to adhere to the (UN-brokered 1994) Lusaka Protocol, despite complaints made at the appropriate time”.

It said UNITA had been able to re-arm and re-organise its forces. “The government finds it difficult to understand that thousands of UN observers deployed in Angola within the framework of the United Nations Angola Verification Mission - 3 (Unavem-3) and the UN Observer Mission in Angola (MONUA), have never realised what was happening, especially when they endorsed UNITA’s formal declaration issued in mid-1998 to the effect that it had disarmed and demilitarised its forces completely.

“Worse still, the United Nations questioned the government’s reports and always doubted that the military activity taking place in just about every corner of the country,” the statement said. It added: “The government of the Republic of Angola regrets that the UN Security Council acts as if it is using double standards.”

Reiterating its view that military action was the only way of containing UNITA, the broadcast said the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had been right to condemn UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi as “a war criminal on whom one can no longer count for any peace process or national reconciliation. The international community should follow suit as a means of facilitating the resolution of the so-called Angolan conflict.”

Namibia, Zimbabwe deny involvement

Namibia and Zimbabwe both denied UNITA allegations earlier in the week that they have intervened in the Angolan conflict on the side of the government. UNITA’s secretary-general, Paulo Lukamba Gato was quoted in a news agency dispatch as saying Namibia and Zimbabwe troops had entered Angolan territory last Friday: “We urge the international community to consider seriously the fact that the involvement of these forces constitutions the last log in a region that is becoming a huge fire,” Gato said.

But ‘The Namibian’ newspaper quoted a defence ministry spokesman as saying the charges were “devoid of any truth”, and the Zimbabwe government also issued a similar denial through its national media.

In August, Zimbabwe, Namibian and Angola, intervened in the neighbouring Democratic republic of the Congo (DRC) to help DRC President Laurent-Desire Kabila against anti-Kinshasa rebels.

ZIMBABWE: Government gives DRC casualty figures

The Zimbabwe authorities announced this week that 26 soldiers have been killed since the country’s military intervention in the DRC. Acting Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi said 33 had been wounded 17 captured and five reported missing in action.
Sekeramayi said that 2,020 rebels had been killed and a further 1,000 captured. He gave no further details.

“I must emphasize that it is our policy to make available to the people of Zimbabwe details of our casualties,” he said insisting that Zimbabwe was not playing down its losses. “We have nothing to hide and have managed to bring the bodies of our fallen heroes for decent burial.”

Although the Zimbabwe government has come under criticism at home for the expense in sending at least 6,000 men, armour and aircraft to DRC, he said there was now a “better appreciation of the importance of upholding the territorial integrity of the Southern African Development Community states, including the DRC”.

New opposition party launched

A group of independent politicians in Zimbabwe launched a new opposition party at the weekend saying the country was “crying for new leadership, fresh ideas, democracy and accountability”.

The unveiling of the Zimbabwe Union of Democrats (ZUD) was announced by its leader, Margaret Dongo, the only independent member of the country’s 150-seat parliament. She said the party, in preparation for the general election in the year 2000, would launch offices through the country’s 10 provinces.

MALAWI: IMF loan approved

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved its third annual loan arrangement for Malawi amounting to US $27 million.

In a statement, received by IRIN, it said the loan would be allocated to support of the governments program for 1998­1999. It would also be augmented by an additional US $7 million and be made available in two equal half yearly installments, the first of which will be available on 30 December, 1998.

“Malawis economic performance improved substantially during 1995­/96 under the programme supported by the first Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) annual arrangement,” it said. “Real GDP growth rebounded to a yearly average of 12 percent, and inflation declined substantially.”

But, it said, policy implementation had weakened during the second year of the ESAF programme with real GDP growth slowing to 5 percent in 1997. The overall fiscal deficit widened to 11.5 percent of GDP and Malawis
currency, the kwacha, came under pressure and experienced several
devaluations.

Malawi embarked on an IMF-staff-monitored programme during April-September 1998. The programme targeted real GDP growth of 4.75 percent during 1998 and a significant reduction in the annual inflation rate to 12 percent by the end of the year. It also sought key macro-economic and structural reforms.
The IMF categorises Malawi as a poor country where nominal per capita GNP in 1997 was only US $220, or less than half the sub-Saharan average with income inequality perhaps the highest in Africa.

ZAMBIA: Coup charges dropped

A Zambian judge this week dropped all charges against two politicians detained for a year without trial after being accused of treason after a failed coup last year against President Frederick Chiluba. Dean Mung’omba, of the opposition Zambia Democratic Congress (ZDC) and Princess Nakatindi Wina were released on bail last week after Judge Japhet Banda ruled that more than 100 state witnesses had been unable to furnish evidence linking them to the attempted coup.

The decision on Monday to drop charges against the two politicians drew praise from the independent Lusaka daily, ‘The Post’ which said it suspected the two had been detained at President Chiluba’s insistence. The newspaper praised Judge Banda for his “courageous” decision.

LESOTHO: SA, Botswana troops to remain in mountain kingdom

The South African authorities have said they do not expect a total withdrawal of South African and Botswana troops from the tiny mountain enclave “until well into next year”, according to media reports in Johannesburg this week.

The troops intervened under SADC auspices in September to help prevent a coup. The reports quoting military authorities said discussions were currently underway with SADC and representatives of the three governments on how to divide the costs of the operation.

SOUTHERN AFRICA: UNHCR concerned at potential refugee problem

The UNHCR, which released its annual report on the refugee problems in Africa this week, told IRIN it was concerned that the crisis in Angola would create a further exodus of refugees to neighbouring countries, and that it was watching the situation in DRC carefully in case of a sudden influx into Zambia of people fleeing fighting in DRC.

“We are concerned that some of the thousands of internally displaced people in Angola could seek shelter in neighbouring countries,” a UNHCR spokesman said. Already the agency was worried about the plight of 10,000 refugees in Angola who had fled the war in the neighbouring DRC. “It is already becoming increasingly difficult for us to support these people even with the help provided by WFP and others,” he said.

The UNHCR report said that Angola had now become southern Africa’s “main producer” of refugees as the country returned to civil war “undoing four years’ effort” to implement the UN-brokered 1994 Lusaka peace accords. It said UNHCR and non-governmental organizations had to quit offices in eastern Angola in June as a result of the fighting, along with around 30,000 Angolans who crossed into Shaba province in the DRC. Although 145,000 Angolans had been repatriated since 1995, the renewed instability had “dimmed prospects” for 255,000 refugees who fled to Zambia, Congo-Brazzaville, the DRC and Namibia during 20 years of civil war in Angola.

“When conditions once again permit returns to Angola, aid agencies will have to help in the reintegration of the internally displaced as well, whose numbers swelled by an estimated 330,000 between April and December,” it added.
The Zambia refugee situation Refugees had also entered Zambia from Angola and the DRC.

Several hundred arrivals from Angola were registered in November in the northwest, confirming a rise which began in July, while several hundred Congolese refugees crossed into Zambia’s northern provinces. UNHCR staff in Lusaka were reviewing contingency plans as the country shares a long border with both troubled states.

The Caprivi Strip exodus

Since 27 October, several hundred Namibian separatists crossed into Botswana from the Caprivi Strip. The number of refugees now housed in the Dukwe reception centre was 1,440 as of Wednesday with people trickling in daily.

“The group, which includes women and children, claim they would be persecuted if they returned to Namibia. UNHCR proposed that they be screened to determine the validity of their claims to refugee status.

Botswana’s government has given its assurance that the group will not be forcibly sent back pending a decision on their status,” the report said.

FAO reports on regional food security

An FAO report this week on food security said that the 1998/99 growing season in Southern Africa had started under more favorable conditions than last year. Normal rains in September and October in cereal producing areasof several countries had provided adequate moisture for land preparation and early planting of coarse grain crops to be harvested from April 1999.

“Despite a reduced 1998 aggregate cereal output,” according to FAO, “the sub-region’s food supply situation remains generally stable. Large maize carryover stocks in South Africa provide an exportable surplus, while a number of countries face substantial cereal deficits that will have to be met by imports. They include Lesotho, Namibia and Zambia, where cereal production in 1997/98 declined significantly.”


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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