Date: Wed, 2 Sep 98 21:20:50 CDT
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: CONGO: Kinshasa's Neighbour Braces for Refugee Invasion
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Copyright 1998 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Kinshasa's Neighbour Braces for Refugee Invasion
By Lyne Mikangou and Patrick Okamba, IPS, 28 August 1998
BRAZZAVILLE, Aug 28 (IPS) - The authorities here are bracing for an influx of refugees from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where what began four weeks ago as a rebel war has become a regional conflict involving about six countries.
The government of the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) announced this week that seven sites had been prepared for the expected refugees amid reports of heavy fighting on the outskirts of Kinshasa. The fighting continued on Friday.
Minister for Solidarity and Humanitarian Action Leon Alfred Opimbat said after an Aug. 26 meeting with humanitarian organisations operating in Congo that three of the camps would host Congolese who had fled Brazzaville during a five-month civil war last year. The other four sites will cater for nationals of the DRC and other countries.
All told, the camps will be able to taken in 10,000 refugees, according to sources in the humanitarian organisations.
"The situation in the DRC ... has made it necessary for the government to set up a multisectoral crisis committee ...," he said. "The assistance of (the humanitarian) sector is in high demand because of the population movements that could result from this situation."
That situation is a civil war that began as a struggle between forces loyal to DRC President Laurent Kabila and groups anxious to oust him. The Kabila camp complained that Rwandans and Ugandans were fighting alongside the rebels but it later obtained the support of Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, which have sent in thousands of troops.
The bodies helping Congo prepare for the refugees are the U.N. Department of Humanitarian Affairs, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and non-governmental organisation (NGOs).
Delphine Kibakidi, head of communications for the Congolese Red Cross, said the ICRC was ready to provide relief food, blankets and utensils to the people displaced by the war in Kinshasa, which is across the Congo River from Brazzaville.
Mac Adams, coordinator of the Brazzaville office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that the agencies and the government had been meeting since mid-August to prepare for refugees from the DRC.
"What we've done with our partners is not just to identify the sites," she said. "We've also discussed specific responses for running the sites and, therefore, the provision of shelter, water, food, health care in these sites."
Refugees from the DRC have already been reported in Loukami, a few kilometres outside Brazzaville, in villages on Mbamou Island in the river Congo, and in parts of the southern region of Niari that are along the border with the DRC.
Some 230 French soldiers and 120 British ones have been stationed at the Maya Maya International Airport here to evacuate expatriates wishing to leave the DRC. Military sources said the forces were there for humanitarian reasons and had absolutely no intention of interfering in the affairs of the DRC.
Sixty French commandos who arrived last week in Brazzaville to beef up the French forces stationed here have been patrolling the river Congo - the authorities in Kinshasa have closed the river border.
French military planes failed earlier in the week to obtain permission from the DRC authorities to land in Kinshasa. According to sources in Kinshasa, only Belgian planes are being allowed to evacuate Western nationals, some 500 of whom have left for home via Brazzaville since the conflict started on Aug. 1.
On one day, about 400 Congolese from Brazzaville, 92 Chinese, six Turks and six French people managed to cross the river on a barge before the border was closed.
Asked to give an estimate of the number of people who cross over each day, Col. Jean-Aive Allakoua, special port commissioner for Brazzaville, said that was difficult to do since everything depended on how many barges and canoes were operating.
"We know there are many Congolese from here who are blocked in the DRC," he said. "There are DRC Congolese who live abroad and want to go back there, Westerners who want to evacuate their families. All together, that's a large number and there were around 400 to 500 people crossing per day before traffic was stopped."
Those who managed to make it out had similar stories to tell. "The war that has broken out in the DRC is intensifying," said one refugee.
"The situation is confused," said a West African national, who passed through here en route for his country. "Heavy weapons are booming a few kilometres from Kinshasa. People are really uncertain about tomorrow. The capital has no water or electricity. Food prices have gone up. It's complicated."
The forces fighting Kabila include people who had participated in the rebellion by Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation (AFDL) of Congo-Zaire that ousted then dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, now late, in May 1997.
They are linked in a new alliance called the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), headed by university professor Ernest Wamba Dia Wamba and Arthur Z'ahidi Ngoma, a former official of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
But the conflict has become a regional affair. An aborted mediation effort by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to which the DRC belongs, was followed by a decision by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe to send troops to Kabila's aid. That action has led to a rift in SADC, mainly between Zimbabwe, which chose to side with Kabila, and South Africa, which opted for mediation.
Many Brazzavillois are worried by the prospect of large numbers of DRC refugees and minister Opimbat said the country would not be able to take on the problem alone.
"More than ever we need foreign aid to face up to a possible influx of refugees from the DRC," he said. "That's why we are launching an appeal to that effect to the international community."
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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