(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

IRIN-SA Weekly Round-up 4 covering the period 22 - 29 January 1999

[Central African Republic (CAR)] Col Augustin Bibaye, CEMAC force spokesman, at Bangui M'poko military base, where the CEMAC force is based.
Date: 18 June 2003.
Olivier Nyirubugara/IRIN

Southern Africa: IRIN-SA Weekly Round-up 4 covering the period 22-29 Jan 1999

ANGOLA: Strategic town seized

Western diplomats in Angola this week confirmed reports that the UNITA rebel movement led by Jonas Savimbi had seized a strategic northern town which can be used as a base to attack government-held oil installations. They told IRIN that UNITA had already broadcast warnings that foreign oil workers should leave the area.

Angolan Defence Minister Pedro Sebastiao told the National Assembly that M’banza Congo, the capital of Zaire Province some 500 km north of the capital Luanda, had been taken on Tuesday after several days of heavy fighting. The diplomats in Luanda said UNITA had warned foreign oil workers to leave the nearby town of Soyo where Texaco has oil installations. The government, however, has pledged to defend the oil installations at all costs, the diplomats said.

The capture of M’banza Congo follows the resumption of war in Angola last month which shattered the UN-brokered Lusaka Protocol peace accords between the government and UNITA.

Humanitarian aid

Meanwhile, the UN Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit (UCAH) reported that the humanitarian crisis in the country’s second city of Huambo, and the nearby central highlands city of Kuito, had started to abate now that WFP had been flying aid in for the past week.

Last month, both government-held cities sustained heavy shelling from UNITA forces using long-range artillery guns. “In fact we have seen a significant drop in the number of internally displaced persons who had fled to Kuito,” a UCAH spokesman told IRIN. “They have started going back to their villages. Although the situation in the Kuito area is not as desperate as it was a month ago, we are getting reports that some roads which had been cleared of mines, have been mined again and that there have been a number of mine related incidents among people going back to their villages.”

He also said aid flights had so far been able to make deliveries without mishap since their resumption a week ago. All aid flights had earlier been grounded after two UN-chartered Hercules C-130 transport aircraft were shot down, one on 26 December with 14 passengers and crew, and the other on 2 January with nine aboard. Domestic airline flights in Angola had also resumed.

The UN reported that an investigation team had this week been able to make a brief visit to the site of the second crash some 20 km outside Huambo and that it had determined no-one could have survived. Both the government and UNITA blamed each other for shooting down the aircraft. WFP announced that the victims on the second flight included its staff member Pedro Moreira. A father of two, Moreira, 31, was the third WFP employee killed in Angola in the past year.

Withdrawal of UN observers continues

Meanwhile, UN officials in Luanda reported that the withdrawal of military and police personnel of the 1,000-strong UN Observer Mission in Angola (MONUA) had so far proceeded without incident. MONUA are being withdrawn to Luanda from the provinces for their safety.

Government reiterates refusal to deal with Savimbi, says MONUA should leave

In television and radio broadcasts, the government reiterated that it was following a strategy to isolate Savimbi, saying it would only deal in future with the breakaway UNITA faction, UNITA Renovada. The Angolan parliament this week adopted three decrees declaring Savimbi “a war criminal and an international terrorist”.

In one of the decrees, it expressed indignation for “complacent way” in which the international community had behaved in Angola, and repeated its belief that the MONUA mission should be brought to a close.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, last week recommended the withdrawal of MONUA from Angola when their mandate ends next month.

The three-nation Angola observer group representing Russia, the United States and Portugal had nevertheless asked the UN Security Council to maintain a smaller observer mission in Angola which could act as a political liaison office for contacts with the protagonists and to assist humanitarian relief operations.

Consolidated Appeal for Angola revised upwards

Meanwhile, UCAH reported that UN agencies in Angola said the cost of continuing humanitarian operations had increased considerably because insecurity on the country’s roads had forced food deliveries to be carried by air. With the escalation of the conflict in Angola, it said an additional US $9.5 million would be needed for airlift operations over the next six months.

“Although WFP will continue its coordination of air operations in Angola, UNICEF will require financial support for the air transport of its own non-food supplies within the Appeal,” UCAH said in its weekly report. “UNICEF therefore needs an estimated US $1 million for air transport of these non-food supplies.”

UCAH also said that WHO was concerned at the increased potential for epidemics and cases of malnutrition due to the current conflict making the monitoring of the health situation in Angola critical for the prevention of serious health related crises. It too, therefore, was appealing for extra funding to maintain its early warning information network.

ZIMBABWE: Doctor confirms torture claims by journalists

A senior Zimbabwe doctor this week released a report confirming that two journalists detained by military police earlier this month over a report on an alleged army coup attempt had been tortured.

Sources in Zimbabwe told IRIN that Dr Philemon Chigwanda, a specialist orthopaedic and trauma surgeon, reported that he had no doubt that the two journalists, Mark Chavunduka, editor of ‘The Standard’, and the author of the report, Ray Choto, had been severely assaulted and tortured.

Chigwanda said that both men had bruising on their buttocks, arms and legs consistent with their stories of having been beaten with wooden blocks. The doctor also found signs of electric shocks to Choto feet. They were detained after their newspaper published a story alleging a coup attempt in Zimbabwe’s army. The report was denied by the defence minister, Movan Mahachi.

Both journalists have been charged with publishing false news and have been released on bail, but have not yet returned to work.

They said the military appeared to be taking the coup attempt story seriously and were demanding to know their sources. Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe attorney-general has promised that if Chavunduka and Choto lodged an official complaint he would order the police to investigate.

COMORO ISLANDS: OAU chairs fresh talks in South Africa

Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim chaired ministerial talks in the South African capital Pretoria this week in the latest attempt to find a solution to the secessionist crisis in the Indian Ocean Comoro Islands.

A South African government spokesman told IRIN in Johannesburg that Salim arrived in Pretoria on Thursday for the talks which were being held under the auspices of the OAU.

The spokesman said the talks, which were being facilitated by South Africa, would also explore the possibility of holding an inter-island conference to address the “terrible” socio-economic conditions of the two islands of Anjouan and Moheli which split from the archipelago in 1997.

Last month, the OAU sent a delegation of military chiefs to mediate an end to an outbreak of secessionist fighting.

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