War and Peace
DR CongoInformal talks between members of the rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Goma) and opposition political parties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) began on 8 May in Cape Town, South Africa. The talks are being hosted by South African President Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki's spokesman, Bheki Khumalo, told IRIN on 9 May that all of the parties who participated in the inter-Congolese dialogue (ICD), were present in Cape Town with the exception of the government and the former rebel Mouvement pour la liberation du Congo (MLC). He stressed that the talks were informal and said their purpose was to "assist the peace process so it can resume". He added that it was essential that the formal ICD resume in order to obtain an inclusive power-sharing agreement, but that nobody knew when this could happen at this stage.
The RCD spokesman, Kin Kiey Mulumba, told IRIN that the meeting was an informal one, "to see what can be done to push forward the peace process". He said his party had been informed that representatives from President Joseph Kabila's government would attend the talks next week. (Source: IRIN)
EritreaThe United Nations is to end the refugee status of hundreds of thousands of Eritreans who have fled decades of fighting in their country, the UN said on 8 May. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said they were no longer at risk from war which has blighted the country for more than 30 years. Refugee status was first granted to fleeing Eritreans in the early 1960s during their bitter war for independence, which was finally achieved in 1993. Then the war with Ethiopia broke out in May 1998 prompted more Eritreans to flee, until it ended in December 2000 after the two countries signed the Algiers peace agreement.
"I believe that these two groups of refugees from Eritrea should no longer have a fear of persecution or other reasons to continue to be regarded as refugees," said Ruud Lubbers, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "They will therefore cease to be regarded as refugees by my Office with effect from the end of this year."
The largest number of the remaining Eritrean refugees are in neighbouring Sudan. UNHCR is helping 140,000 of them in camps in eastern Sudan, while thousands of others have spontaneously settled in urban centres. More than 44,000 Eritrean refugees have been repatriated from Sudan with UNHCR assistance. About 5,000 Eritrean refugees also remain in Ethiopia and Yemen. A statement issued from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva said: "The worldwide cessation will take effect on 31 December and will affect hundreds of thousands of Eritreans in neighbouring countries. (Source: IRIN)
LiberiaSeveral thousand people fled the town of Gbarnga in central Liberia following fighting between government troops and rebels of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), news agencies reported on 8 May. A humanitarian source in the capital, Monrovia, said government troops had been deployed into the town of Weinsu, 40 km from Gbarnga, to try and repulse the rebels. Numbers of the displaced and reports of casualties could not be immediately ascertained, the source said on 9 May.
Gbranga once served as a headquarters of President Charles Taylor’s forces when he led a war of rebellion in 1989-1996, news agencies said.
A spokesman for the rebels, William Hanson, was quoted by the BBC on 8 May as saying they had captured a number of strategically-important towns in the area. Hanson accused the government of using civilians as human shields in the conflict between government and rebels since 1998.
On 1 May, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the Liberian army had committed war crimes in pursuit of the rebels including the execution of scores of civilians, widespread rape of women and girls, some as young as 12, and systematic burning of villages. LURD rebels, HRW said, had also perpetrated summary executions of alleged government collaborators, rape, and forced recruitment, including of children, since July 2000. (Source: IRIN)
SomaliaSomalia will have no peace for so long as it has a government backed by Arab states, the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Committee (SRRC) said on 8 May. The SRRC co-chairman, Husayn Aydid, said the years of conflict which had ravaged the country derived from a clash between Arabs and Africans. He was addressing a press conference in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on 8 May.. "The key issue is the Arab front against the African front," Aydid said. "We believe we are Africans, not Arabs. We Somalis are members of the Arab League, but as a Somali nation we are not Arab. Somalia’s future will be with African countries and Arabs will come as a second, as neighbours and through cooperation on economic and cultural levels and other levels through the institutions that a future Somali government will establish."
He went on to say it was vital to re-establish the identity of the Somali Republic as an African country. "Arabs are our neighbours in Africa. But we will never accept Somalia being an Arab nation." Aydid added that Arab money coming into the country had never been used to rebuild Somalia, but only to fuel war. (Source: IRIN)
ZimbabweZimbabwe's parliament has passed a controversial law aimed at speeding up redistribution of land, as a local human rights group warned that illegal farm invasions had increased. With the Land Acquisition and Amendment Bill being passed on 8 May a constitutional lawyer, Greg Linnington of the University of Zimbabwe, said the ramifications for farmers were "pretty grim". The passing of the Bill made permanent temporary amendments to the land law by President Robert Mugabe.
"Various restrictions that were once temporary will now be made permanent. Restrictions that were imposed on farmers included regulating how they could utilise their land and providing for the seizure by the state of farm equipment and the like.
"It's designed to accelerate land acquisition by the state. The whole thing is generally bad news for the agricultural community," said Linnington. (Source: IRIN)