War and peace
BurundiSome 3,000 residents of Rukaramu, an area 10 km northwest of the capital, Bujumbura, have been living in the open since March 9 for fear of attacks by rebels of the Forces nationales de liberation (FNL) loyal to Agathon Rwasa, according to local authorities.
"During the day, they [residents] go to farm in their fields, but they spend the night in the neighbouring zone of Gatumba," Daniel Nsazurwimo, the chief of Rukaramu, said. "We are trying to persuade them to return to their homes." Gatumba is eight kilometres southwest of Rukaramu, which is surrounded by the Rukoko Forest - an ideal haven for the rebels. Residents have promised to go home when security is in their area is strengthened.
The army has been pursuing the rebels over the past two weeks, forcing many to flee across the border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the towns of Uvira, Makobola or Luvungi.
On March 8, the rebels attacked Rukaramu, spreading panic among residents. Nsazurwimo said the rebels killed one person, wounded 10, and looted 200 homes. Local authorities and residents of Rukaramu zone said the attack was in revenge for two rebel fighters the army had captured two weeks earlier.
The rebels have accused Rukaramu residents of collaborating with the army, but deny hostility towards them. "We live together with the populations of Rukaramu, they often bring food to our combatants, we cannot kill them," Pasteur Habimana, the rebel spokesman, said. (Source: IRIN)
Central African Republic-CongoThe Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is "extremely worried" by the volatile situation in the Central African Republic (CAR), UN News reported on March 9. The UN agency reported that a new influx of asylum seekers from the CAR had entered the Republic of Congo (ROC). The UNHCR has dispatched a team to verify reports of the arrival of 600 Central Africans at the small town of Betikoumba in the ROC, UN News said, adding that in February, some 200 Central Africans had fled fighting from areas south of the CAR capital, Bangui, into Betikoumba.
UN News quoted NGOs working in Betikoumba as saying that new refugees had started arriving on March 8 morning, following a night of fighting in nearby CAR town of Mongoumba, on the border junction between the CAR, the ROC and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Witnesses said the standoff began on 2 March when government troops in Mongoumba, 189 km south of the capital, Bangui, stopped two river boats carrying MLC militiamen withdrawing from the CAR with goods they had looted. The troops seized the boats, then disarmed and arrested the passengers.
After being released, the militiamen crossed the River Oubangui for the DRC, but returned on March 7 with reinforcements. They then looted the homes of the town’s 10,000 residents and its Roman Catholic mission. "Ten thousand people have run away into the bush and to Betou," Alphonse Kossi, a priest and the national executive secretary-general of Catholic relief agency, Caritas, said. (Source: IRIN)
Cote d IvoireCote d'Ivoire's political parties and rebel groups reached agreement on March 8 at a roundtable meeting in Ghana, on the implementation of a joint-government accord stalled for over a month, but reports of killings in the west of the country cast a shadow over the new development.
The Accra meeting was called by Ghanaian President John Kufuor - who is also chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) - to find ways to facilitate the implementation of a French-brokered pact signed on 24 January in Marcoussis, France, by three Ivorian rebel groups and seven political parties. The accord provided for the formation of a government of national reconciliation, headed by a consensus prime minister.
Seydou Diarra was designated to hold that post soon after the agreement was signed. However, further implementation was stalled by disagreement over the allocation of seats in the new government. The rebels insisted on the posts of defence and the interior which, they said, President Laurent Gbagbo had promised them at a follow-up summit held in Paris on 25-26 January.
Under the agreement, the rebels have agreed to give up the two posts. Instead, they and other signatories of the Marcoussis Accord – Cote d'Ivoire's main political parties - will be represented on a new 15-member National Security Council that will also include a representative each from the police, gendarmerie (militarised police), and armed forces along with the prime minister. (Source: IRIN)
DRCHumanitarian access to the embattled city of Bunia in Ituri District of northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is once again possible following a takeover on March 6 by the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) from the Union des patriotes congolais (UPC) rebel group, according to humanitarian sources.
"For the first time, we hope to have access to the population to provide them with humanitarian assistance following several years of interruptions due to violence committed by ethnic militia groups who have been fighting in the region," Michel Kassa, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the DRC, said. He said calm returned to the city, and its inhabitants were resuming their daily routines. (Source: IRIN)
DRC-UgandaGrowing dissent is emerging among Ugandan members of parliament over the continued presence and redeployment of the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the wake of fighting that erupted on March 6 in the city of Bunia, resulting in the ouster by the UPDF of the Union des patriotes congolais (UPC) rebel group. Adonia Tiberondwa, head of political affairs for the opposition Uganda People's Congress (UPC), on Monday criticised the redeployment of the UPDF in the DRC without the approval of parliament, saying that such action was again exposing parliament and proving it a "toothless dog", according to the independent Monitor newspaper.
"UPC is expressing concern, because parliament is abdicating its responsibility by allowing the president to send the daughters and sons of Uganda to fight in other countries without permission of parliament as prescribed in the constitution," Tiberondwa was quoted as saying.
He added that Ugandan soldiers had died previously in wars in DRC, Sudan and Rwanda when their participation had not been sanctioned by parliament.
For his part, the Rukiga MP and vice-chairman of parliament's Public Accounts Committee, Jack Sabiiti, was more reserved in his critique, and called for dialogue among Uganda, Rwanda and DRC.
LiberiaThe volatile situation in eastern Liberia, near the border with Cote d'Ivoire, has trapped thousands of civilians who are now without medical care, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported on March 6. MSF said it had evacuated staff from the area. "Our teams were forced to leave the area because it was too dangerous to stay," it explained. "We are very worried now about the situation of the people in the region, both local population and the refugees. "Thousands of innocent people remain trapped in an extremely violent and volatile situation, cut off from medical care of any kind."
Over the past days, MSF said, clashes between government forces and rebel fighters in Grand Gedeh district on the border with Cote d'Ivoire had forced thousands of people to flee and obliged MSF to evacuate its staff. Kostas Moschochoritis, MSF Operational Coordinator for West Africa in Brussels, said that since January, MSF teams had been working in Toe Town, the epicentre of the recent fighting in Grand Gedeh, and the surrounding villages. (Source: IRIN)