The U.S. embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania, 1998

80 feared dead, 1,000 hurt in Africa blasts.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, Aug 7 (Reuters) – Up to 80 people were feared dead and over 1,000 injured in two huge car bomb attacks on Friday aimed at the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, police and witnesses said.

“Clearly this is a terrorist attack,” U.S. State Department spokesman Lee McClenny said in Washington.

A huge blast ripped through the Kenyan capital Nairobi at 10.35 am (0735 GMT) and was followed minutes later by one in the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam.

“At the moment we have 20 confirmed dead, but there are a lot of people trapped in the building (next to the U.S. embassy) – maybe another 60,” said a police official in the Kenyan capital.

Tanzanian police said two people died in the Dar es Salaam attack.

The Dar es Salaam explosion also caused minor damage to the French embassy nearby, the French Foreign Ministry said in Paris.

“A violent explosion at the U.S. embassy caused light material damage to the French embassy doown the street,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anne Gazeau-Secret said. There were no injuries among embassy personnel.

Police said the Kenyan bomb was aimed at the U.S. embassy, but Ufundi House next door, which houses small offices and a secretarial college, took the brunt of the explosion.

They said they believed the bomb had been planted in a car parked in an alley between the two buildings.

The blast almost levelled the five-storey Ufundi House and caused extensive damage to the embassy.

Rescue workers were trying desperately to dig their way into the piled high wreckage of Ufundi House to reach possibly dozens of people trapped inside.

Reporters saw 25 bodies being carried away.

Kenya’s KTN televison said some of the dead were passengers on a commuter bus passing by at the moment of the blast. Television pictures showed a badly damaged bus with a man apprently dead in the driver’s seat and others dead or injured inside.

In Dar es Saalam, police said the blast came from a car parked near the U.S. embassy in a residential suburb on the outskirts of the city.

No one has claimed responsibility for either attack.

Eda Rubia, a management consultant who was walking near the U.S. embassy in Nairobi when the blast happened, said: “I heard a loud bang then the whole place was shaking and within a split second glass was falling on my head,”

“It was strange … a big bang and then I was lying on the floor. All around me were people, bleeding,” said Simon Tafei, a messenger.

Hospital authorities in Nairobi said over 1,000 people were injured in the blast and issued an urgent appeal for blood.

“We have received more than 200 people,” said Mike Sheldon, administrator at the private Nairobi Hospital. “Some are very seriously injured.”

“It is all chaos,” an official at the city’s main Kenyatta Hospital said. “We are treating hundreds … too many, we can’t say.”

There, doctors and medical students were battling to deal with the overwhelming number of patients being brought in by ambulances, police cars, private cars and taxis.

U.S. ambassador Prudence Bushnell was superficially injured in the attack but was back at work, officials said.

U.S officials in Washington said U.S. citizens were among the dead and injured in the two attacks. At least two embassy officials were in serious condition at Nairobi hospital. Kenyan Trade Minister Joseph Kamotho was also injured.

The Nairobi blast rocked the city and a dense plume of smoke soared above the skyline.

The explosion blew the windows out of office buildings up to five blocks away and was heard five kilometers (three miles) from the city centre.

The scene became one of immediate chaos with hundreds of people trying to flee at the same time as thousands rushed to the scene to see what had happened. The city quickly became logjammed, causing extra problems for ambulances and rescue workers.

The charred bodies of the some victims lay in the street near mannequins blown out of the windows of nearby clothes shops. Scores of people were seen covered in blood from injuries caused by flying glass.

Telephone and satellite links between Kenya, Tanzania and the rest of the world were affected by the explosions with banks and other businesses coming to a standstill.

Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi immediately issued a statement condemming the attack and said the authorities would do anything possible “to bring the perpetrators of the heinous crime to book”.

Kenya and Tanzania have rarely been the scene of urban violence of this sort.

In 1979, however, the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi was flattened by an explosion which killed several tourists.

It was claimed by a shadowy Arab group in retaliation for Kenya allowing Israeli troops to refuel in Nairobi during their raid on Uganda’s Entebbe airport to rescue hostages from a hijacked airplane.

(C) Reuters Limited 1998.

Rescuers dig through night for bomb survivors.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, Aug 7 (Reuters) – Two huge bomb blasts at U.S embassies in east Africa on Friday killed up to 80 people, injured about 1,200 and brought morning rush-hour carnage to the streets of Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

Hundreds of blood-covered workers at the two embassies and nearby buildings ran screaming into the streets after the coordinated attacks in the Kenyan and Tanzanian capitals, which were barely 10 minutes apart.

Passengers in a bus caught by the Nairobi blast were incinerated in their seats.

President Clinton denounced the attacks as cowardly and inhuman and vowed to bring the bombers to justice.

Rescue workers dug through mountains of rubble for hours after the blast and continued into the night, desperately searching for survivors.

But already claims were surfacing that the bulk of the effort in Nairobi was being directed to rescuing embassy staff rather than local victims in nearby buildings.

No one claimed responsibility for either attack, but as recently as this week, Egypt’s banned Jihad group said it would retaliate for Washington’s help in extraditing Islamisists to Cairo from Albania.

An embassy spokesman in Nairobi said at least eight U.S. embassy staff or citizens were confirmed dead and seven others still missing after the Kenya blast and Clinton ordered American flags at diplomatic missions around the world be flown at half mast.

The United States was also sending emergency medical staff from Germany to help treat the injured and a Federal Bureau of Investigation team to probe the blasts.

A huge explosion ripped through Nairobi at 10.35 a.m. (0735 GMT) and was soon followed by another in the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam.

The timing – and the fact that both were car bombs and the targets U.S. embassies – left few observers doubting it was anything but a sophisticated, coordinated operation.

The scene in both capitals swiftly became chaotic, with one witness in Dar es Salaam saying the area looked like a war zone.

In Nairobi, scores of people were cut by flying glass as the explosion blew windows from office buildings up to five blocks away.

Hospital authorities in the Kenyan capital said over 1,200 people were injured in the blast and issued an urgent appeal for blood.

U.S. ambassador Prudence Bushnel

At one centre alone, the private Nairobi Hospital, administrator Mike Sheldon said: “We have received more than 200 people. Some are very seriously injured.”

The biggest toll was at Ufundi House, a five-storey office block that is home to a a dozen or so small businesses and also a secretarial college.

The building, next door to the embassy, caved in, crushing to death scores of people.

The army had taken over digging operations, but some volunteer workers complained that the intial effort had gone towards helping U.S. embassy staff despite it being clear that Ufundi House had been worse hit.

“The Americans did nothing to help us,” said Kariuki Chege, a volunteer who said he spent seven hours on the roof of Ufundi house.

Other workers echoed his sentiments.

“At the moment we have 37 people confirmed dead,” said Otieno Oyoo, a deputy commissioner of police. But he said dozens more were believed buried beneath Ufundi House and the death toll was expected to rise above 80.

A U.S. embassy official in Dar es Salaam said six people were killed and 58 injured in the Tanzanian blast. No Americans were among the dead, but several embassy staff were injured.

Police said the Kenyan bomb had been planted in a Mitsubishi Pajero car parked in an alley between the embassy and Ufundi House.

Eda Rubia, a management consultant who was walking near the embassy in Nairobi, said: “I heard a loud bang then the whole place was shaking and within a split second glass was falling on my head.”

“It is all chaos,” an official at Nairobi’s main Kenyatta Hospital said. “We are treating hundreds … too many, we can’t say.”

There, doctors and medical students were battling to deal with the overwhelming number of patients being brought in by ambulances, police cars, private cars and taxis.

U.S. Ambassador Prudence Bushnell was superficially injured in the attack but was back at work, officials said.

Kenyan Trade Minister Joseph Kamotho, whose office was next door to Ufundi House, was also injured and he was expected to remain in hospital overnight. Bushnell had just left Kamotho’s office after a meeting to discuss U.S.-Kenyan relations.

The Nairobi blast rocked the city and a dense plume of smoke soared above the skyline.

The charred bodies of the some victims lay in the street near mannequins blown out of the windows of nearby clothes shops.

Telephone and satellite links between Kenya, Tanzania and the rest of the world were affected by the explosions with banks and other businesses coming to a standstill.

Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi issued a statement condemming the attack and said the authorities would do everything possible “to bring the perpetrators of the heinous crime to book”. He later toured the scene and visited some of the injured.

Julius Meme, Kenya’s director of Medical Services, told Reuters that the response to appeals had been fantastic. “People have been donating blood, blankets, everything,” he said.

Kenya and Tanzania have rarely been the scene of urban violence of this sort.

In December 1980, however, the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi was flattened by a blast which killed 20 people and injured 80.

It was claimed by a shadowy Arab group in retaliation for Kenya allowing Israeli troops to refuel in Nairobi during their raid on Uganda’s Entebbe airport to rescue hostages from a hijacked aircraft.

(C) Reuters Limited 1998.

Sense of order returns to scene of Kenya bomb blast.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, Aug 8 (Reuters) – Rescue workers on Saturday battled to try to reach at least five people believed to be alive but trapped deep in the rubble caused by a devastating car bomb attack on the U.S. embassy 24 hours earlier.

As they struggled to cope with the devastation caused by the collapse of a five-storey building almost levelled by the blast next to the U.S. embassy, a sense of order seemed finally to have settled on the scene.

Kenyan and British army engineers appeared to have taken charge of the operation and – aided by gun-toting United States marines – have cleared the area of all but essential personel.

The first hours after the blast were marked by the sort of Kenyan public spiritedness that at once both helped and hindered the operation.

The car bomb exploded on Friday morning from a Mitsubishi Pajero parked between the United States embassy and Ufundi House, an office block which is home to several small businesses as well as a secretarial college.

The blast punched out windows from buildings as far away as five blocks, showering thousands of pedestrians in the city centre with glass and masonry.

In seconds the scene became one of complete pandemonium.

As scores of injured people ran in terror, blood streaming from their wounds, hundreds more sprinted towards the site to gawk at the spectacle.

Nairobi’s traffic – never the smoothest on a good day – swiflty ground to a halt, causing extra problems for a fleet of cars, ambulances and taxis trying to ferry the injured to hospitals.

Hundreds of volunteers from the thousands of unemployed Nairobi residents who roam the streets each day in search of work descended on the bomb site, literally tearing at the rubble with their hands in the hunt for survivors.

One man was plucked alive from rubble more than five hours later, grimacing in pain but bellowing “God is great” as he was carried off on a stretcher.

But the darker side of Nairobi life also emerged.

Police said six volunteers were beaten up by enraged crowds and later arrested after being caught looting the site and stripping the dead of valuables.

It has become a sad but inevitable consequence of almost every Kenyan traffic accident or other disaster in the past few years as the country struggles in the grip of a moribund economy.

Arguments broke out among volunteer rescue workers, police, government officials, journalists and the army.

The scene at the bombers’ target, the U.S embassy next door, was a complete contrast.

Marines kept the crowd at bay, swiftly errected black cloth around the embassy fence and focused their efforts on the embassy.

Their action led to charges by scores of volunteers that the American were only interested in their own citizens and were not concerned with the Kenyan dead and injured in the building next door.

At least eight U.S. citizens died in the blast and five others are unnaccounted for. At Ufundi House, the confirmed death toll is over 70 with an unknown number still buried in the rubble.

Member of Parliament Agustine Kathangu, who visited the scene, told the Daily Nation newspaper: “I am disgusted at the appalling rescue efforts of the military and police. There is no coordination at all”.

That was evident in the early hours of Saturday morning as dozens of people scrambled over the rubble, calling for torches, hacksaws and rope from a clearly ill-equipped rescue force.

By mid-morning, however, it was clear who was in charge.

Americans carrying side-arms and wearing body armour had taken a grip and British army engineers were directing their Kenyan colleagues on how best to use bulldozers and earthmoving equipment brought in to help the work.

With planeloads of U.S. experts due in the Kenyan capital later on Saturday, few observers doubt the Kenyan government won’t take advantage of their experience and let them direct the rest of the operation.

(C) Reuters Limited 1998.

East African blasts probe swings into gear.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, Aug 8 (Reuters) – U.S. President Bill Clinton vowed on Saturday to do everything it takes to catch the culprits of two devastating car bombs aimed at Washington’s missions in East Africa that left at least 141 people dead and thousands injured.

As a huge U.S. investigation and international rescue mission swung into gear in Kenya and Tanzania, Clinton said in a weekly radio address that the United States would never bow to terrorism.

“No matter how long it takes or where it takes us we will pursue terrorists until the cases are solved and justice is done,” Clinton said.

“…we will continue to take the fight to terrorists.”

Clinton spoke as dozens of U.S. medical assistants and forensic experts continued to arrive in the region to help the East African nations cope with the tragedy.

They were joined by experts from South Africa, Israel, France, Britain and Germany. Offers of help came from India, Japan and scores of other countries as the operation took on the appearance of a grand military alliance.

Israeli experts took over a desperate scramble for survivors thought to be trapped beneath the rubble of a building next to the U.S. embassy in Nairobi that was flattened in Friday’s blast.

They plucked a survivor from the rubble late on Saturday evening, nearly 36 hours after the bomb brought the building crashing down around him.

Another man died on the verge of being rescued, having survived more than 24 hours pinned beneath tonnes of concrete and debris.

Although the official death toll from the Kenya blast stands at 132, rescue workers fear between 20 and 30 more lie crushed beneath the collapsed Ufundi House. The number of injured stands at 4,149.

In neighbouring Tanzania, the death toll rose to nine as three people died during the day of injuries from the car bomb that went off outside the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam. More than 70 people were wounded in the blast.

Prudence Bushnell, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya who was slightly injured in the blast, said the United States had no idea who was responsible.

“As to theories…I have none. Do you?” she asked a news conference.

Eleven U.S. citizens were killed in the Kenya blast but none died in Dar es Salaam.

“Terrorism has been brought to our doorsteps,” Kenyan Foreign Minister Bonaya Godana told a news conference.

The blasts occurred minutes apart at around 0735 GMT on Friday, the first one rocking the Kenyan capital and sending a dense plume of smoke into the air.

Glass and rubble rained down on pedestrians walking through the central business district as the explosion punched out the windows of office blocks up to five blocks away.

Of the more than 4,000 injured, dozens are still in critical condition in Nairobi’s hospitals, but officials say medical staff have responded like heroes.

“I was very proud to be Kenyan,” Trade Minister Joseph Kamotho, who was injured in the blast, told Reuters from his hospital bed.

But in the city’s main morgue, corpses lay side by side or piled on top of each other across the entire length of the floor. Many were limbless or bent into unnatural angles. The innards of others hung from bellies ripped open in the explosion.

In single-file, a grim procession of relatives passed slowly through the narrow building. An eerie hush filled the room, broken only by the sound of shuffling feet and the occasional muffled cry as a body was recognised.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the blasts as “indiscriminate terrorism”, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth sent a message of support and tributes poured in from African capitals.

A previously unknown Islamic group on Saturday claimed responsibility for the twin bombings and vowed more attacks to drive American and Western troops from Moslem countries.

A series of statements sent on Saturday to a television station broadcasting to the Gulf said the Nairobi bombing was carried out by two Islamic fundamentalist dissidents originally from the holy city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, while an Egyptian staged the Dar es Salaam attack. It did not mention the men’s fate.

The senders called themselves “The Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Places”.

Similar statements were sent to Radio France International and a London-based Arabic newspaper but there was no indication that the senders could provide evidence for their claims.

The messages called for the release from prison of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind Egyptian cleric serving a life sentence in the United States for plotting bombings in New York, and several others who appeared to be fundamentalist preachers in Saudi Arabia.

It was not immediately known whether U.S. investigators would give credence to the claim.

(C) Reuters Limited 1998.

Kenya buries its dead as blast probe widens.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, Aug 9 (Reuters) – Kenya began the grim task of burying its dead on Sunday as officials announced the first breaks in the investigation of deadly bomb attacks on two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

To the cries of “God is Great”, the almost headless body of Farhat Sheikh was slowly lowered into a freshly-dug grave at Nairobi’s main Moslem cemetry on Sunday.

The bitter irony that a Moslem fundamentalist group had claimed responsibility for the attacks was not lost on his family.

“He was a true Moslem and yet they killed him,” Sheikh’s brother-in-law, Zahir Khan said. “They have achieved nothing in their objective.”

Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi told reporters that investigators were following “a few leads” in connection with the Nairobi blast, but in Tanzania a U.S. official said a security camera mounted atop the embassy building may have captured the bombers in the act.

The latest death toll in Kenya now stands at 174 – including 11 Americans – according to a government committee set up to deal with the crisis, but rescue workers digging through the ruins of a building flattened by the blast fear dozens more bodies may still lie in the rubble.

They were concentrating their efforts, however, on searching for survivors – although hopes were dwindling nearly 60 hours after the bombs went off.

The head of the Israeli rescue force in Kenya told reporters that a woman they had been trying to pluck from the rubble of the building had stopped speaking, and they feared she had died.

In Tanzania, investigators were focusing on a blue water-delivery tanker which drew near to the embassy gates just before the blast.

“We are not sure if it was a car bomb or if it was a (water) truck bomb,” a diplomat told reporters in a briefing.

There was a crater outside the embassy perimeter on the street which appeared to be the centre of the explosion, and the tanker had been blasted right up to the embassy wall.

Both the driver and assistant of the tanker were killed in the explosion, the diplomat said.

On Sunday a grey mist covered the Kenyan capital like a shroud and church bells pealed across the country in tribute to the dead.

The Supreme Council of Kenya Moslems – who make up around 10 percent of Kenya’s approximately 30 million population – called the blast “a heinous act of terrorism”.

A previously unknown Islamic group on Saturday claimed responsibility for the twin bombings and vowed more attacks to drive American and Western troops from Moslem countries.

It said the Nairobi bombing was carried out by two men from Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, while an Egyptian staged the Dar es Salaam attack. It did not mention the men’s fate.

The group called itself “The Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Places”.

U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger told American television it was far too soon to publicly identify possible suspects but added: “We take all of that seriously.”

As the international rescue operation continued, U.S. President Bill Clinton vowed to do everything possible to catch the culprits.

Clinton spoke as dozens of U.S. medical assistants and forensic experts continued to arrive in the region to help the East African nations cope with the tragedy.

They were joined by experts from South Africa, Israel, France, Britain and Germany. Offers of help came from India, Japan and scores of other countries as the operation took on the appearance of a grand military alliance.

Prudence Bushnell, the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya who was slightly injured in the blast, said the United States had no idea who was responsible.

“As to theories…I have none. Do you?” she asked a news conference.

The blasts occurred minutes apart at around 0735 GMT on Friday, the first one rocking the Kenyan capital and sending a dense plume of smoke into the air.

Glass and rubble rained down on pedestrians walking through the central business district as the explosion punched out the windows of office blocks as far as five blocks away.

Order appeared to have returned to Kenya’s hospitals in the chaotic aftermath of the blast, which left nearly 5,000 injured.

Doctors said they had now discharged scores of people and taken many off the critical list.

U.S. medical teams also evacuated 10 Americans and five Kenyans working in the embassy to Germany, U.S. embassy spokesman Bill Barr said.

Hundreds of people still jostled for space around noticeboards in hospitals to see where their relatives were admitted, whether they had been discharged – or had died.

(C) Reuters Limited 1998.

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Witnesses give conflicting accounts of Kenya blast.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, Aug 10 (Reuters) – Investigators probing the deadly car bomb attack on the U.S. embassy in Kenya will have to sift through thousands of varying eyewitness accounts before getting to the truth.

Three days after blast – which killed up to 200 people and injured over 5,000 others – it seems almost as many versions of the attack exists as there are survivors.

People can be excused for the confusion.

From the Reuters office just six blocks from the embassy, staff heard a massive explosion coming from the central business district and saw a dark cloud mushrooming above the skyline.

Reporters, photographers and cameramen were quickly at the site and reported scenes of complete pandemonium.

The blast punched out windows from office blocks as far as five blocks away, showering thousands of city workers and pedestrians with a deadly spray of glass.

As the injured fled in panic – some leaving a trail of blood behind them – thousands of spectators rushed to the scene to volunteer help or merely gawk at the spectacle.

Everyone claimed to have seen something significant, but their versions were as tangled as the ruins of Ufundi House, the office block next to the embassy that was flattened by the blast.

The U.S. embassy is a six-storey building of reinforced concrete and, supposedly, bomb-proof windows, although every one was blown out by the blast.

In the heart of the city, it has has no grounds as such, but is surrounded by a thick reinforced steel fence and a gate, around 15 metres (yards) from the building itself. U.S. marines regularly patrol the space between the fence and the mission and also man the gate.

Outside the fence, at the rear of the embassy and behind Ufundi House, was a car park used by embassy staff and visitors to the U.S. mission.

This area was guarded by “askaris”, Kiswahili for the local, unarmed and sometimes untrained Kenyan security guards who are a permanent feature of this crime-ridden city.

What is clear is that the blast originated from a car parked in the embassy car park.

Some witnesses claim to have seen a man sitting in pick-up truck as it exploded. It is scarcely possible they could have lived to tell the tale as virtually ever other vehicle in the park spontaneously burst into flames and rubble from Ufundi house came crashing down.

Others claim to have seen a vehicle explode as it crashed through the pole barrier at the entrance to the car park. Anyone this close would have to be be very lucky to be alive.

Local newspapers have quoted other witnesses as saying three “Arab-looking men” leapt out of a vehicle, lobbed a grenade at the embassy proper and engaged marines in a firefight before the blast.

Some witnesses say one of the men was arrested immediately after the blast, and newspapers carried photographs of an “Arab-looking man” – almost a cliche in the aftermath of terror attacks around the world – being led away by police.

Kenya is home to a significant population of Indians and Pakistanis as well as tens of thousands of Somalis, Sudanese and Ethiopians.

Many of them are Moslems; Friday is Islam’s holy day of prayer and the city’s main mosque is also in the centre of town – in short, any of them might be described as “Arab-looking”.

Scores of U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation specialists have been flown in to probe the blast, but they have kept quiet so far on what they may have found.

One thing is clear however – they may have to dig deeper that the rubble of Ufundi House to uncover the truth.

(C) Reuters Limited 1998.

Arrests made in embassy bombing, US offers reward.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, Aug 10 (Reuters) – The first arrests in the bomb attacks on two U.S. embassies in East Africa were made on Monday as rescue workers frantically searched for survivors from last Friday’s devastating blasts.

Investigators in Dar es Salaam said they had arrested possible suspects for the attack in Tanzania which occurred within minutes of a more powerful blast in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Police Commissioner Wilson Mwansasu confirmed “some arrests” but he could not say how many or whether those being held were considered prime suspects.

In Washington, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice said she had heard from Tanzanian authorities that three groups of suspects had been arrested.

Mwansasu said senior officers were meeting on the case. Further details were not immediately available.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright announced a reward of up to $2 million for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the bombings.

By Monday afternoon, the death toll from the twin blasts had risen to 202, all but 10 in Nairobi, but a faint tapping sound gave Nairobi rescue workers hope that a woman was still alive beneath the rubble.

U.S. President Bill Clinton, who has vowed to hunt down those responsible for the bombs no matter how long it took, cut short a trip to the U.S. West Coast on Wednesday to discuss the bombings with his foreign policy advisers.

The flag-draped coffins containing the bodies of 11 of the 12 Americans killed in the Nairobi bombing – none was killed in Dar es Salaam – left Kenya aboard a U.S. Air Force plane. The family of one of the American victims, who had married a Kenyan, chose to bury her in Kenya.

Albright, who was to fly to Ramstein U.S. Air Force Base in Frankfurt, Germany, to escort the bodies home, told State Department employees in Washington she and Clinton were preparing a budget request to rebuild the shattered embassy building and tighten security at other U.S. missions.

Dressed in black, Albright vowed that the United States “will not be intimidated” by the explosions.

“Although terror can turn buildings to rubble and laughter to tears, it can never, will never, deter America from its purpose or presence around the globe,” she said.

In Nairobi, rescue workers continued the delicate task of sifting through tonnes of concrete and debris to try to reach possible survivors of the attack on the U.S. mission there, described by a British army engineer as “the biggest bomb I have ever seen”.

The sound of tapping from the rubble of a Nairobi office block earlier on Monday gave fatigued rescue workers renewed hope there was at least one more survivor but hours later they had still not reached the source of the sound.

Rescuers have been working around the clock to reach a woman, known only as “Rose”, from the collapsed structure of Ufundi House, next door to the U.S. mission.

“I am full of hope she is alive and is hanging in there,” said Meital Hallawi, a first officer in the Israeli army rescue unit leading the operation. “Rose is very strong.”

The British army engineer, who arrived at the scene with a contingent of men about an hour after the blast, told Reuters the bomb could have contained as much as 250 kg (550 lb) of explosive.

Jones told Reuters that any number of commercial explosives could have been used to construct the bomb, including ammonium phosphate and plastic explosives.

“I reckon it was a pretty well-made bomb. I don’t think it was manufactured locally,” he said. “I am only surmising but I would imagine it was manufactured somewhere else and shipped in.”

Despite news of the arrests in Tanzania, investigators warned it could take time to identify the perpetrators of the attacks, which struck the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam minutes apart on Friday morning.

In Washington, national security officials warned that the probe could be a long one but said the United States would never rest until the attackers were brought to justice.

Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi told reporters on Sunday that investigators were following “a few leads” in connection with the Nairobi blast.

A previously unknown Islamic group calling itself “The Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Places” on Saturday claimed responsibility for the bombings and vowed more attacks to drive American and Western troops from Moslem countries.

It said the Nairobi bombing was carried out by two men from Mecca in Saudi Arabia, while an Egyptian staged the Dar es Salaam attack. It did not mention the fate of the men.

U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger told American television on Sunday it was far too soon to publicly identify possible suspects but added: “We take all of that seriously”.

In Tanzania, a U.S. official said a security camera mounted atop the bombed embassy may have captured the bombers in the act. He gave no details about what the tape might show.

Dozens of U.S. medical assistants and forensic experts have arrived in the region to help the two East African nations cope with the tragedy. They have been joined by experts from South Africa, Israel, France, Britain and Germany.

(C) Reuters Limited 1998.

U.S. struggles to shake bias accusations after bomb.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, Aug 12 (Reuters) – The United States is struggling to shake off accusations that it was concerned mainly with its own citizens after the deadly attack on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

An editorial in the Kenya Times, owned by the ruling Kenya African National Union party, criticised U.S. Marines for being more concerned with American than Kenyan lives after the bomb went off.

“The question will remain for a long time to come whether the abstract notion that the U.S. embassy is American territory is an excuse to behave as the U.S. Marines did,” the editorial said.

At least 244 people were killed – including 12 Americans – by a huge car bomb aimed at the U.S. embassy in Kenya’s capital last Friday. A simultaneous attack on the U.S. mission in neighbouring Tanzania killed 10 people, none of them Americans.

The Nairobi blast extensively damaged the embassy building but almost levelled Ufundi House next door, home to a number of small businesses as well as a secretarial college.

Most of the dead were in Ufundi House when the bomb went off, but the 12 Americans and 21 Kenyan members of staff died in the embassy itself.

As scores of volunteers rushed to help rescue people trapped in the rubble, gun-toting Marines kept them away from the embassy.

“We were so close to a woman but we just couldn’t reach her,” volunteer rescuer Jackson Muthomi told Reuters on Friday as he worked on Ufundi House.

“I asked the Americans for a drill but they said they would have to authorise it and in the end it was too late.”

His story has been echoed by scores of volunteer workers in local newspapers since the blast.

The privately owned East African Standard also criticised the United States in an editorial headed: “The ugly side of Americans”.

“Like it or not, there is discontent among ordinary people and their perception of the American attitude towards the local population and this tragedy,” it said.

A cartoon in the Daily Nation, East Africa’s biggest-circulation daily, showed a white man being carried from rubble to a plane marked “Airforce Rescue One”. In the foreground is a Kenyan with his leg blown off being told by burly Marines: “We can’t take you for some security reasons.”

U.S. officials have tried to defend themselves from the charges, but the whispering campaign continues.

Many Kenyans are deeply unhappy that immediately after the blast, Washington issued a travel advisory urging Americans not to visit Kenya.

U.S. officials have vehemently denied one story concerning the three-day delay by embassy officials in finding the 12th American victim.

According to the story, 10 of the victims were white and another of Asian extraction and their bodies were swiftly taken to a private morgue in the city.

But the 12th victim was black and U.S. officials did not notice his body being dumped with those of dozens of local Kenyans in the overcrowded government mortuary.

U.S. officials have embarked on a campaign to improve their image.

The embassy, now located at the Kenya headquarters of USAID, Washington’s external aid agency, has issued a two-page statement which painstakingly details every aspect of U.S. assistance to the operation so far.

“American search-and-rescue teams have not only worked at the U.S. Embassy, but also continue to assist in ongoing search efforts at the other buildings damaged or destroyed,” the statement said.

The embassy evacuated all seriously wounded Americans for medical treatment abroad, as well as 12 Kenyan embassy staff.

But the image remains, and the Standard editorial also took issue with the high-level armed U.S. presence currently on Kenyan soil.

“Compare today’s heavy-handed, some would say insensitive, presence of U.S. Marines ringing the embassy – some looking more suited to a Rambo movie than the bread-and-butter role of a guard in a city centre – with the lax situation of just one week ago,” it said.

“Razor wire may be necessary (although that’s debatable), but is there any need for all the canvas sheeting, complete with Stars and Stripes and flags of the various units?…”

In stark contrast, the Israeli army rescue team which worked around the clock from Saturday morning to try pull survivors from Ufundi House have been greeted as heroes.

“They have identified with our suffering fully and we are grateful,” Edmond Wafula told the Standard. “They are a wonderful lot.”

(C) Reuters Limited 1998.

Kenya holds suspects, criticism of U.S. mounts.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, Aug 12 (Reuters) – Kenyan police made a number of arrests on Wednesday in connection with the deadly car bomb attack on the U.S. embassy as criticism of American priorities in the aftermath of the blast mounted.

“A number of persons have been detained in relation to this incident and are providing useful leads into the circumstances surrounding the bomb blast,” President Daniel arap Moi said in a statement which gave no details of the arrests.

But its phrasing suggested Moi was starting to take note of a growing wave of resentment among Kenyans angered at perceived U.S. discrimination immediately after the blast.

“The government is grateful that many Kenyans, especially members of the public, have provided and continue to provide useful information to the various branches of the Kenya police who are in charge of these investigations,” the statement said.

The words “Kenyans” and “Kenya police” were capitalised.

At least 247 people – including 12 Americans – were killed in the Nairobi blast, while a simultaneous attack on the U.S. mission in Tanzania killed 10 people, none of them Americans.

The Nairobi bomb extensively damaged the embassy but almost levelled the neighbouring Ufundi House – home to a number of small businesses and a secretarial college.

As volunteers rushed to help people trapped in the rubble, gun-toting Marines kept them away from the embassy.

Local newspapers said the bodies of 10 white Americans and a citizen of Asian extraction were taken to a private morgue, while those of Kenyan staff were dumped in the city mortuary.

The body of the 12th American, who was black, was recovered from the pile of Kenyan corpses three days later, they said.

Kenya Times, owned by Moi’s Kenya African National Union party, wrote: “The question will remain for a long time to come whether the abstract notion that the U.S. embassy is American territory is an excuse to behave as the U.S. Marines did.”

An East African Standard editorial – “The ugly side of Americans” – said: “Like it or not, there is discontent among ordinary people and their perception of the American attitude towards the local population and this tragedy.”

U.S. Ambassador Prudence Bushnell denied the accusations in an interview with commerical KTN television on Wednesday night.

“Our house was on fire…our children were in danger,” she said. “We were rescuing people. People are people. There was no determination of race.”

Health Management Solutions, a private Kenyan medical aid organisation, claimed U.S. officials pressured the South African air force to forgo airlifting emergency supplies to Nairobi to free up the plane to evacuate the embassy’s wounded.

“The American government must stand accused not just of an open act of discrimination, but also of deliberately sabotaging humanitarian efforts in order to protect itself and its own,” the organisation said in a statement.

A multinational rescue team wrapped up its operation on Wednesday after abandoning hope of pulling any more survivors from Ufundi House.

The last glimmer evaporated when the Israeli-led team recovered the body of Rose Wanjiku, whom rescuers had heard tapping from beneath the rubble on Monday.

“This morning we finished the mission,” said Colonel Udi Ben Uri of the Israeli army. “We pulled out 95 bodies (since rescue efforts began). We found three people trapped alive.”

At a ceremony to mark the end of the operation, a large gathering of Kenyan, French, Israeli and U.S. rescue workers and officials held a minute’s silence in remembrance of the victims.

An Israeli official read a speech which ended with the Hebrew saying “He who saves one soul saves the entire world”.

The focus was shifting to the investigators who must sift through the blast site, eyewitness accounts and endless rumours in their hunt for clues to the identity of the bombers.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has scheduled a news conference for Thursday to brief reporters on its inquiry. FBI officers had been unable to get full access to the site until the rescue operation wrapped up.

Tanzanian police arrested 14 foreigners – six Iraqis, six Sudanese, a Somali and a Turk – in their search for those responsible but said on Tuesday that none had been charged.

Police released the Somali, who holds an Australian passport, on Wednesday after checks showed he worked for the United Nations refugee agency and was en route from Sudan to a new posting in western Tanzania.

A previously unknown group calling itself The Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Places has claimed responsibility, but there has been no evidence to support the claim.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived in Germany on Wednesday to accompany the bodies of 10 of the 12 American dead to the United States.

Albright vowed that Washington would continue to play a leading role in internatonal affairs despite the bombings.

“We will not be intimidated or pushed off the world stage by people who do not like what we stand for,” Albright told reporters after visiting U.S. embassy staff wounded in the Nairobi bombing who were being treated at a U.S military hospital in Germany.

The body of Senior Master Sergeant Sherry Lynn Olds left Ramstein Air Base in southwest Germany on Wednesday morning at the request of her family. The other American victim is being buried in Kenya.

U.S. President Bill Clinton will speak at a ceremony on Thursday at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington to mark the return of the bodies.

(C) Reuters Limited 1998.

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Kenya

Daniel arap Moi at a political rally

Kenya ruling party adopts razzmatazz over rhetoric.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, Nov 7 (Reuters) – As a microcosm of the society it helped shape, the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) party’s rally on Friday accurately reflected the state of the nation.

It started late, the power failed and the water was cut off, but there was plenty of enthusiasm and a make-do spirit familiar to this east African country.

There was also an air of steely power among the leaders as the party which has led Kenya since independence in 1963 gathered the faithful to launch its election manifesto.

Around 4,000 delegates from around the country and representing all levels of society met at a gymnasium in the Moi International Sports Centre on the outskirts of Nairobi to plot what is likely to be another election victory when a poll date is finally set.

Businessmen in designer suits arrived in chauffeur-driven Mercedes, a group of Moslem clerics in tattered robes arrived by private bus and hundreds of others splashed through a drenching rainstorm to arrive on foot.

They were all united in purpose — to cheer the party elders and pay tribute to their leader, President Daniel arap Moi.

“We love Kenya. We love KANU. We love our leader Moi,” sang a choir of women singers dressed in the green, red and black colours of the party.

In the stands, a man wearing a T-shirt bedecked with a rooster, the party emblem, cock-a-doodle-dooed to cheers from the crowd.

When Moi finally arrived, nearly two hours later than expected, women ululated, men whistled and everyone stamped their feet in approval.

Earlier a brief power cut plunged the hall into darkness, while a plumbing failure meant water had to be carried by buckets to makeshift kitchens catering for the hungry and thirsty.

The sports complex, which Moi opened just 10 years ago, is already scarred by the neglect that characterises much of Kenyan infrastructure.

Broken panes of glass have not been repaired, tiles are missing from the floor and the roof leaks in parts.

But it failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd, many of whom were hoping to be selected as parliamentary candidates in the forthcoming elections.

“I very much want to be an MP,” said one elderly delegate wearing a fez and richly hennaed beard. “I very much want a car.”

Moi gave no clue as to when elections would be held, but analysts noted that as Friday’s rally was billed “Manifesto 1997”, an election by the end of the year — in line with the constitution — seemed probable.

C'est Moi

The rally still contained some of the rhetoric that for years has dominated the particular brand of African nationalist-type socialism that sprung up over much of the continent as countries gained independence from colonial rule.

But it also contained a degree of glitzy razzmatazz, with balloons, bunting, ribbons, placards and posters being waved around.

The release of a giant gift-wrapped box of helium-filled balloons drew the biggest cheer of the day, but that soon turned to laughter as most failed to rise more than a few metres (feet) from the ground.

Moi good-naturedly batted them about with the ceremonial ivory swagger stick he often carries in public. When one burst the crowd took their cue and began a frenzy of balloon popping.

With not a hint of dissent in the house, Moi left to a standing ovation. “We will win the election,” he said as he left. “Go and win the election.”

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Rural Kisii portrays complex Kenya politics.

By David Fox

KISII, Kenya, Dec 5 (Reuters) – The Kenyan political landscape since independence in 1963 has been painted in the colours of the ruling Kenya African National Union and dominated by two men: the nation’s founder Jomo Kenyatta and his successor Daniel arap Moi.

But at a local level the picture is one of abstract complexity featuring a web of party intrigues, tribal loyalties, loose ethnic alliances and patronage that begin at village level and reach all the way to State House.

A good vantage point to view this is Kisii, a small hilly town in Nyanza province, western Kenya, where all the ingredients come together to form an often explosive cocktail.

That mix is being shaken once again as the nation prepares to go to the polls on December 29.

Kisii, a town of about 200,000 people, is in Kisii district and takes its name from the pastoral tribe that inhabits the area.

Kisii

In the south of the same province live the Maasai, a traditional herder people, and in the north the prosperous Luo who have benefited from the provincial capital Kisumu’s regional importance as a trading hub on Lake Victoria.

Nyanza has not been a particularly happy hunting ground for Moi, but in rural Kisii district at least his party has retained a relatively loyal following.

That may now be changing.

“KANU has many, many problems,” said Christopher Obure, the KANU member of parliament for Bobasi in Kisii until last month when parliament was dissolved ahead of the election.

“There are problems of succession, problems of credibility…problems at the very top of the party,” he said.

Obure, who describes himself as a die-hard KANU supporter, was speaking to Reuters after a night of campaigning in his home district — campaigning merely for the right to stand for the party in the elections.

He won the party’s nomination by 10,000 votes last week, but the result was overturned following an appeal by his opponents and Obure had to repeat the process on Friday.

KANU won six of the ten Kisii seats up for grabs in the 1992 election — the first multi-party poll in modern Kenya — but Moi gleaned less than 15 percent of the area’s presidential vote and many think he will do even worse this time around.

“People are warning me against even suggesting they vote for Moi,” Obure said. “He can virtually count himself out here.”

Under Kenya’s election rules, a candidate must win 25 percent of the vote in at least five of eight provinces to become president.

If this does not happen, the top two candidates must face off again — a scenario that would leave Moi facing, for once, a single opponent with more chance of uniting opposition.

Moi was crushed in Nyanza in 1992.

The province gave the late Oginga Odinga 74 percent of the vote compared to Moi’s 14.5 percent.

This time around, however, the non-Moi vote is expected to be more evenly divided. Many people in Kisii believe this will give Moi the opportunity to somehow garner 25 percent of the province’s vote.

Communities such as the Kisii, Luo and Maasai — for years living relatively amicably along uncharted tribal boundaries — have been clashing more frequently, polarising areas into groups that pledge allegiance to whoever promises them security.

Police say Maasai tribesmen murdered 14 Kisii villagers last month in the most brutal attack of a series in which more than 50 people have been killed in the past three months.

Luo villagers speak of armed gangs of Kisii youths rampaging through rural areas at night.

The disruptions mean whole communities may miss the chance to vote because they have not had the opportunity to register, are dislocated or merely fear violence and intimidation on December 29.

Opposition sources say a smaller turnout in Nyanza means a much larger slice of the vote for the better-organised KANU — something that could help keep Moi from facing a difficult second round of voting.

“If the president has to face a run off it will be doom,” Obure said. “I don’t think he can win in a two-person race.”

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Kisumu ... choked with weed.

Provincial capital choked by weed and political apathy.

By David Fox

KISUMU, Kenya, Nov 7 (Reuters) – A weed known as water hyacinth seems to be the only growth industry these days in Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest town situated on the eastern shore of Lake Victoria.

The weed — whose pretty flowers belie the damage its clogging roots do to transport, fishing and industry in the area — spreads as far as the eye can see, in a vast green and purple carpet.

The town itself seems to have stopped moving because of the choking hyacinth. A peeling arch across the main street praises President Daniel arap Moi — who has been in power since 1978 — for his “10 years of progress and leadership”.

The twin towers of the provincial headquarters form a ghostly silhouette in the evening sunset. Although the structure was built in 1988, it was never finished or connected to utilities and bats are the only residents.

With a general election scheduled across Kenya on December 29, residents feel Kisumu would be the perfect place for aspiring politicians to beat the drum about what can and should be done to boost development. Residents say, however, they have been noticeable only by their absence.

“I must say we are a little surprised and disappointed that not a single presidential candidate has asked our views about this part of the country,” said Sunil Shah, regional head of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers.

“No-one has asked us what must be done to make the area more productive, more viable … to boost development, jobs, welfare.”

For years after Kenyan independence in 1963 Kisumu enjoyed the kind of growth envied by much of the rest of the country. Its port proved a vital lake trading hub to Uganda and Tanzania, serving as a ready outlet for its vast agricultural hinterland.

But poor planning, regional political differences and domestic politics seem to have stopped further development in its tracks.

Giant Nile perch were introduced to Lake Victoria in the 60s, with the well-intentioned aim of providing richer fishing for the communities that live along its shores.

When the voracious perch began eating their way through the lake food chain, the water hyacinth appeared in the 70s, and at first provided better breeding cover for the smaller species.

Now the weed has won the battle, incapacitating the waterworks that supply the area, stopping boats from entering or leaving the harbour and de-oxygenating the water and thus suffocating the fish.

A debate has been raging for years between environmentalists and residents over whether to use herbicide or mechanical means to kill the weed.

Herbicides have potentially dangerous consequences for the rest of the ecosystem while the resources needed to properly harvest the weed — which multiplies at an astonishing rate when its floating bulbs are crushed or broken — are simply beyond the means of this cash-strapped East African country.

Today residents of Nyanza province also feel caught between two camps.

The Luo people have for years felt isolated by Moi and the ruling Kenya African National Union party for the dissent shown by the late Oginga Odinga, a former vice-president who split from KANU in 1966 and stood against Moi in the 1992 presidential elections.

The Luo marked their displeasure at the ballot box in 1992 — also Kenya’s first multi-party elections — by voting overwhelmingly for their tribesman Odinga and his FORD-Kenya party, and it is hard to find anyone in the area who will not vote for his son Raila this time around.

“But unless the Luo suddenly decide to vote for KANU, or KANU somehow is beaten in the (national) elections — Nyanza will be ignored by Nairobi,” said one businessman.

“And Raila (Odinga) has the Luo vote sewn up. So it is unneccessary for him to go making promises.”

This picture of tribal, ethnic and party difference is being played out across Kenya as the elections near, but in Kisumu many residents say they are interested only in their own affairs.

“Why can’t we have a leader who will do something about this?” said a waiter at a local hotel’s rather inappropriately named Lakeview Terrace as he gestured towards the water hyacinth.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

Nairobi-Mombasa road open; Kenya counts losses.

By David Fox

KAMBU BRIDGE, Kenya, Jan 18 (Reuters) – Kenya’s vital link road between the capital Nairobi and the port city of Mombasa was open on Sunday but heavy rains have created one of the biggest traffic jams East Africa has ever seen.

“We are moving…but you might not notice,” the chief engineer in charge of Kenya’s road system told Reuters at the bridge over the Kambu river, about 250 km (155 miles) from Nairobi on the way to Mombasa.

Part of Kambu bridge was washed away in fierce storms which lashed Kenya on Thursday and Friday, but there was still enough of the structure remaining on Sunday for vehicles to make a precarious crossing.

Whoops

However, transport had come to a complete standstill at Kyulu, about 60 km (37 miles) further east and a traffic jam stretched for some 25 km (16 miles) along the main highway which passes through Kenya’s Tsavo National Park.

The traffic jam was caused by a combination of terrible roads and worse driving. But after being stuck deep in the maze for the past two days, drivers appeared finally to be working together to sort out the impasse.

“Most of these problems was caused because everybody tried to go by himself,” said a policeman at the scene. “If people drive with more cooperation, we could fix this.”

But most were afraid. Drivers with their assistants, known as spanner boys, were jostling each other to try to get the traffic moving.

Hundreds of trucks, many carrying perishable goods, to or from Mombasa, have been stuck for days — their cargo slowly rotting.

The Mombasa-Nairobi road is one of the busiest in Africa, with thousands of trucks and lorries carrying goods from the port city to the east African heartland and beyond.

Trucks from Zambia, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda were bogged down in the mud with their exhausted drivers slumped at the wheel.

One Kenyan official at the scene said it would take months to repair the damage.

“We will do it but it will be a big struggle,” he said. “I think a low estimate is that it will take two billion shillings ($33.3 million) to get the road back to normal.”

The rains, blamed by Kenya’s meteorological department officials on the El Nino weather phenomenon, have virtually washed away what remained of the tarmac for huge stretches.

Dozens of newly imported vehicles still bearing Arabic license plates from Dubai, a growing trading base for the region, were stuck in the mud on their first taste of Kenya’s roads.

The Sunday Nation newspaper quoted Public Works Minister Kipkalya Kones as saying the government would use the army and National Youth Service to help with temporary repairs.

Bus operators between Nairobi and Mombasa said they had suspended bookings until further notice. Rail transport was still available but bookings there were reported low.

Floods have closed the main transit route for road and rail goods traffic to Uganda and Rwanda via the Malaba border in western Kenya. Road traffic for Uganda was being diverted to the Busia border crossing or to the Lake Victoria port of Kisumu for ferry transfer to Ugandan ports.

Kenya Airways reported that bookings to and from Mombasa and other coastal resorts had “sky-rocketed”.

On Saturday, Kenya’s Meteorological Department said rainfall would decrease in flood-hit areas over the next few days, partly as a result of a tropical cyclone in the Mozambique Channel off Africa’s Indian Ocean coast.

Kenya police said on Saturday that at least 86 people had been killed by the floods and the Sunday Standard put the toll at 91.

There were conflicting police reports over the period during which the deaths had occurred. Police said on Saturday that the toll was for a 24-hour period but senior police officers said separately that the toll could be for a three-month period.

On Sunday, police spokesmen would not say when the first death from floods was actually recorded.

(c) Reuters Limited 1998

Anger, despair on Kenya’s highway from hell.

By David Fox

VOI, Kenya, Jan 19 (Reuters) – In the 23 years Ali Ahmed Abdi has been a truck driver in East Africa he has been shot at, robbed, blown up by a landmine and been in more crashes than he can remember.

None of that compared to driving from the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa to the capital Nairobi this week, the wizened Somali told Reuters in the middle of a logjam of hundreds of vehicles stranded on a muddy stretch of highway.

“This is the road from hell,” he said on Sunday as he prepared to spend a third night in the cab of his Mercedes truck. “This is just crazy…I think it is time to retire.”

Ali Ahmed, along with over 300 truck, bus and car drivers and hundreds more passengers, have been stuck in the middle of what has become possibly East Africa’s biggest ever traffic jam.

A combination of terrible roads, worse driving and torrential rains blamed on the El Nino weather phenomenon, brought traffic to a standstill on the Mombasa-Nairobi road, a 500-km (310-mile) highway that is a vital economic artery across East Africa and parts of Central Africa.

Three people, including a woman who gave birth amid the highway chaos, died on Monday, witnesses said.

Police said on Saturday a total of 86 people had died nationwide as a direct result of rain and flooding while health workers say more than 400 people have died from epidemics linked to the unseasonal weather.

Nowhere is the neglect of Kenya’s infrastructure more evident than on this road.

The rutted, potholed, two-lane road cuts its way from the Indian Ocean through beautiful African bush as it winds slowly uphill to Nairobi on the lip of the great Rift Valley.

A few years ago, on a good day, the journey could be done in six hours. On Sunday it took a Reuters team 14 hours to make it just halfway.

To the shock of those stranded in the middle of nowhere with lions on the prowl in the nearby bush, the Kenyan government appeared unconcerned.

A dozen or so labourers were trying without evident success to repair the Kamba bridge which had been reduced to a precarious three-metre(10 foot)-wide structure.

There was no sign of any other attempt by the government to fix or even temporarily solve a problem that virtually everyone in the traffic jam dubbed “a national disgrace”.

“When I get to Nairobi — if I get to Nairobi — I will get a picture of (President Daniel arap) Moi and stick it on the front of my truck for the return journey,” said Omar Adi Rahman, a Mombasa-based driver. “He promised us progress and development — what a big joke.”

Youths from a bus carrying party activists from the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) tried to stop a Reuters cameraman from filming the mess, saying: “Don’t report negative things…we are not monkeys.”

But they vanished when furious truck drivers insisted on helping reporters through the impasse so they “could tell the world about this”, as one said.

Their anger was directed fully at Moi, who won a further five-year term in last month’s chaotic election, and KANU, which retained a slim majority in parliament.

“Why doesn’t the president come and see this?” said another driver. “And I don’t mean come in a helicopter, I mean he should drive from his big house to Mombasa like the wananchi (common people).”

The jam was worst on a 20-km (12-mile) stretch of the road that splits Kenya’s world-famous Tsavo national park. Drivers were reluctant to leave the road even to relieve themselves for fear of lions which could be heard roaring as the sun set.

The consequences of a collapsed infrastructure could be seen from the luxury Voi Safari Lodge where the 50-room hotel carved out of a granite “kopjie”, or hill, lay empty save for a honeymooning Italian couple who arrived a week ago.

“We were expecting a big tour group from Israel yesterday (Saturday), but they didn’t make it on the road ahead and I don’t think they will make it today (Sunday),” said the hotel manager. “Nobody wants to come to Kenya anymore.”

The manager of Amboseli Safari Lodge, stuck with two American clients in the jam, said Kenya’s infrastructure and tourism in particular was on the verge of disintegration.

“How can I in good faith tell visitors they should drive for two days to make just 200 km (125 miles),” he said. “We can’t fly because the airstrips are wet…we can’t drive because the roads have collapsed.”

Many drivers, hungry and thirsty after days on the road, began raiding cargo trucks for food. An Indian trader carrying tomatoes to the coast began giving out packets of the fruit saying: “It is rotting. I may as well give it away.”

Doug Shepherd, an American tourist from Ohio, stood shaking his head and asked the crowd: “Why doesn’t the army come and fix these roads? It would take the U.S. army a couple of hours.”

The laughter that greeted his query — from hundreds of tired, frustrated Kenyan, Rwandan, Burundian, Ugandan and Somali drivers — said more than any response.

(c) Reuters Limited 1998

Floods cause chaos on key road link in Kenya.

By David Fox

KYULU, Kenya, Jan 19 (Reuters) – At least three people died and a baby was born on Monday in a logjam of hundreds of vehicles stranded on Kenya’s flooded Nairobi-Mombasa highway, witnesses said.

Weather experts who blame the unseasonal downpours on the El Nino phenomenon have predicted more rain this week, with the possibility of further havoc on the road that links much of East and Central Africa to the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa.

Witnesses said a bus driver, a passenger and the woman who gave birth all died in the traffic jam which began on Thursday.

“I saw the three dead with my own eyes,” a witness told Reuters at Kyulu, a desolate patch of the highway near the town of Voi.

The witnesses said the woman died during labour. One of the two men suffered a heart attack and the other apparently died from exhaustion.

Police at the scene declined to comment on the reported deaths.

Apart from Kenya, countries depending on Mombasa for imports and exports include Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic.

Despite a reopening of the road on Sunday, there was no sign of a clearing of the build up of hundreds of trucks, buses and private cars stretching for more than 16 km (10 miles).

Downpours in what is normally the dry season have battered Kenya since late last year, submerging vast stretches of roads and washing away bridges.

State radio said on Monday the death toll from flooding nationwide had risen from a total of 86 announced by police on Saturday to 94, including five drownings in Nairobi and two other towns. Health workers say more than 400 people have died from epidemics linked to the unseasonal weather.

“Traffic is still building up. It will take a lot of effort to clear the logjam, and that is if it doesn’t rain again,” one official at Kyulu said.

“People are good humoured, resigned to their fate. I don’t know how long it will remain that way,” a witness said.

A Kenya Ports Authority spokesman said port activity had not so far been affected by closure or delays on the road, but added: “If it continues, no doubt the port will be affected.”

He said long-term storage facilities in Mombasa enabled importers to keep their shipments at port for some time. Exports usually arrive at port well in advance of shipment.

Industry leaders meanwhile urged the government to take special measures to repair the roads in the country for which tourism is the top foreign exchange earner.

“Urgent and immediate steps must be taken to rehabilitate our roads,” the chairman of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce, Kassim Owango, told Reuters.

He called for a private sector authority to manage the roads.

“El Nino has given us the chance to start with a clean slate,” he added.

The European Commission office in Nairobi hinted on Monday the European Union should be able to go ahead with a 84 million Ecu ($91 million) road development project in Kenya this year.

The Commission’s development adviser in Nairobi, John Simpson, said the EU last year “decided to postpone a decision…for technical and operational reasons”.

“In the meantime, the government has agreed to a number of measures to enhance the efficiency and sustainability of the project,” Simpson told Reuters. “We expect a decision would be taken in the second quarter of this year.”

Kenya Television Network (KTN) said schools around the northeastern town of Garissa were closed due to flooding. Residents were running short of food because delivery trucks were to unable to reach the town, it said.

KTN also showed footage from western Kenya’s Kano plains, where it said floods had forced hundreds of peasants to flee their grass-thatched houses and take refuge in schools and churches.

(c) Reuters Limited 1998

FOCUS-Kenya hunts for killers of British tourist.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, Feb 16 (Reuters) – Kenyan authorities on Monday launched a hunt for the killers of a British tourist who was stabbed and robbed while on holiday at a luxury safari camp.

Roy Chivers was knifed in the chest on Sunday as he was walking with his wife Sandra in a private game sanctuary attached to the Aberdare Country Club, about 225 km (140 miles) north of the capital Nairobi.

Kenyan Tourism Minister Henry Kosgey took the unusual step of holding a news conference on the murder and gave his “personal assurance” that the culprits would be caught.

“We are taking this unusual attack very seriously,” Kosgey said. “A team with tracker dogs is combing the area and making enquiries…we are confident we will resolve the matter.”

Officials at the Aberdare Country Club, one of the most luxurious hotels in the country, said that Chivers and his wife were on their first visit to Kenya and the Aberdare stay was part of a two-week trip.

Kosgey said the couple, from Orpington in Kent, were on an early morning game walk on Sunday when they were ambushed by two men, one of whom drew a knife and demanded they hand over their video camera.

“Mr Chivers tried to fight them and he was stabbed in the chest,” Kosgey said. “His wife was also struggling to stop the attack and she was cut on the hand.”

Hotel staff said other guests riding on horses through the park raised the alarm after they found Sandra Chivers cradling her husband in her arms in the bush.

The couple were taken to a local hospital for emergency treatment while a flying ambulance was summoned to nearby Mweiga airstrip.

“Unfortunately, on admittance to Nairobi hospital, Mr Chivers suffered cardiac arrest and despite the efforts of the medical team he died,” Kosgey said. “Our heartfelt sympathy goes to Mrs Chivers and her family.”

Sandra Chivers was being comforted by British High Commission officials while arrangements were being made to fly her husband’s body home, officials said.

The Tourism Ministry has offered a reward of 50,000 shillings ($800) for information leading to the capture and conviction of the killers.

Police said the robbers fled with two cameras worth around 80,000 shillings. One of the cameras was later found near the scene.

The Aberdare Country Club, owned by the Lonrho Group, is a 49-room lodge built 27 years ago around a white-settler’s ranch and boasts a golf course and private 1,300-acre game sanctuary.

The park is entirely fenced and police officials speculated that the killers must have cut through the wire to gain access.

Kosgey said attacks on tourists in game parks were so rare that officials did not even have statistics.

“This is very much an isolated incident,” Kosgey said, “but we do appreciate the effect such an incident might have on the industry.”

Kenyan tourism is already reeling under a combination of natural and man-made calamities, including ethnic violence on the coast in July, floods caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon, uncertainty over last December’s elections and violence in the Rift Valley last month.

The number of visitors to the East African country dropped to 600,000 last year from a peak of more than 850,000 in 1994.

(c) Reuters Limited 1998

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Heart of Darkness: Kisangani 1997

Biaro refugee camp, near Kisangani

Aid officials in Zaire hope for access to refugees.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, April 27 (Reuter) – Zairean rebel soldiers on Sunday again blocked aid workers and journalists from going to areas where thousands of Rwandan refugees are believed to have fled, aid officials said.

The officials were hoping for talks with rebel leader Laurent Kabila to try to break the deadlock over access.

The rebels barred travelling further than seven km (four miles) south of Kisangani in northeastern Zaire towards makeshift camps hurriedly abandoned by more than 50,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees last week.

The fate of those who fled after attacks by local villagers and rebel soldiers remained uncertain.

“We have very little hard information,” said Paul Stromberg, spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.

He said aid officials were hoping for a series of meetings with Kabila, who arrived in Kisangani on Saturday night, to convince him of the need to get help to the refugees quickly.

“Even if we find them, the first question we have for Mr Kabila is what kind of assistance can we give them?” he said.

Planes flying over the dense forests south of Kisangani have failed to find any sign of the refugees, although about 50 were ferried north across the Zaire River by villagers in dugout canoes on Saturday.

Stromberg said about 100 others had been sighted at Ubundu, some 125 km (80 miles) south of Kisangani, but he doubted they would have been part of any group that fled last week’s fighting.

Aldo Ajello

The European Union’s special Great Lakes envoy, Aldo Ajello, arrived in Kisangani on Saturday with a high-level delegation from the EU’s “troika”, the group’s past, current and future presidencies.

The U.N.’s regional coordinator, Pierce Gerety, was also in town hoping to meet Kabila.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has described rebel treatment of the refugees as “slow extermination” and a U.N. food agency spokeswoman, making a comparison with Hitler’s Germany, has said: “The expression ‘Final Solution’ is not exaggerated.”

Some of the refugees played a prominent role in the 1994 slaughter of an estimated 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda, and Kabila told Reuters last week that criminals among them had transported their lawlessness to Zaire.

Refugees among those who crossed the river on Saturday could not give a clear picture of what happened to cause their camps to be so swiftly abandoned.

One man, clutching a Bible as he sat in the prow of a canoe, said soldiers had surrounded the camp on Tuesday but local Zaireans armed with machetes and axes had led a series of raids which sparked the exodus.

“There was a lot of shooting, but I didn’t see where from or where at,” he said. “We just ran away as fast as we could.”

The 50,000-plus refugees at Kasese, about 35 km (22 miles) south of Kisangani, were among the last of more than a million Hutus who fled Rwanda in 1994 to escape reprisal for the genocide.

Most returned in a huge wave of repatriation sparked by Kabila’s sweeping rebel advance through eastern Zaire. But this group instead headed west and marched nearly 500 kms (300 miles) through dense jungle before being overwhelmed by hunger, exhaustion and illness just south of Kisangani.

It was there that the rebel army overtook them.

An outbreak of cholera was cited by rebels as the reason for delaying the start of a planned U.N. airlift of the refugees.

Rebel authorities have blamed local hostility to the refugees on envy sparked by the sight of tons of food and other aid being given to them by aid organisations.

Local Zaireans have looted U.N. warehouses and a train carrying supplies to the camps, but some of them said they had been urged on by rebel soldiers.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Rwandan Hutu refugees near Kisangani

Aid workers search for missing refugees in Zaire.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, April 28 (Reuter) – Aid workers searched on Monday for up to 100,000 Rwandan refugees missing in Zaire’s jungle and said it was virtually impossible to meet a rebel demand to repatriate all Rwandan refugees within 60 days.

In another setback, the U.N. Children’s Fund said men in military uniforms had seized 50 ailing Rwandan Hutu refugee children from a hospital in rebel-held east Zaire on Saturday.

“We have sent people south across the Zaire River and we’ve sent a flight to Ubundu to verify whether any more refugees have gone that far south,” said U.N. refugee agency UNHCR spokesman Paul Stromberg in the northeast Zairean capital of Kisangani.

“Repatriating all the refugees in 60 days would have been difficult enough but now we have to search for them first,” he said. “We will be asking the (rebel) alliance for flexibility.”

Aldo Ajello, the European Union’s special envoy to Central Africa’s “Great Lakes” region, led the team driving south of Kisangani with Filippo Grandi, UNHCR’s regional coordinator.

Stromberg said U.N. agencies would ask for more days if they met hurdles in finding and returning the refugees who fled last week, but said they could use two airports in Kisangani for direct repatriation flights to Rwanda’s capital Kigali.

In addition to the 100,000 missing since last week, 250,000 Rwandan and Burundian refugees are unaccounted for in Zaire since they fled at the start of civil war in October.

Rebel leader Laurent Kabila agreed to give agencies access to search for refugees in talks with aid officials on Sunday but asked for all Rwandan refugees to be sent home within 60 days.

In Geneva, UNICEF said 50 children and several adult Rwandan Hutu refugees at a hospital in Lwiro, 30 km (19 miles) north of the eastern border city of Bukavu, were driven off on trucks on Saturday after men in uniform beat up three medical workers.

“About 20 men in military uniforms drove up in trucks on Saturday morning and fired in the air to warn people not to leave their homes,” said UNICEF spokeswoman Francesca Toso.

“They then stormed into the pediatric hospital, where the children were being treated for serious malnutrition, took them out and put them on trucks, together with some adult refugees, and drove off, warning they might come back,” she added.

Stromberg said U.N. agency officials on Sunday demanded an inquiry into rebel treatment of the refugees because of the “many allegations, many distressing reports”.

Kabila flew to the city of Goma from Kisangani on Monday and said he would meet U.S. envoy Bill Richardson on Wednesday as part of attempts to broker a peaceful end to the civil war.

Kabila said he would meet Richardson, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and President Bill Clinton’s envoy, in Lubumbashi after the U.S. diplomat saw President Mobutu Sese Seko in Kinshasa on Tuesday.

He said the rebels were gaining ground at the same time as he cooperated with U.S. and South African diplomatic mediation.

“We are committed to dialogue but that doesn’t stop us from making military gains,” Kabila told Reuters on arrival from Kisangani for talks with commanders of the rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL).

He said rebels had reached the area around Bondo, a town 300 km (185 miles) east of Gbadolite, where Mobutu has his northern jungle palace, and were consolidating their approach to the town of Kikwit, 390 km (240 miles) east of Zaire’s capital Kinshasa.

He said the final touches were being put to a pact mediated by South Africa and both sides had almost agreed on a venue for face-to-face talks but some details had to be worked out.

The rebel chief says he will meet Mobutu only to discuss how he will stand down as Zaire’s leader after 32 years in power.

Kabila has denied that rebel forces sparked the refugee exodus last week by attacking the camps south of Kisangani and has said he wanted an apology from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has described the fate of the refugees as “slow extermination”.

About 50 refugees who reached Kisangani on Saturday said their camp was surrounded on Tuesday by rebel soldiers and then attacked by Zairean villagers armed with axes and machetes.

The Hutu refugees fled Rwanda in 1994 and are collectively accused by minority Tutsis of genocide in Rwanda the same year.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

Aid workers in Zaire find thousands of refugees.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, April 28 (Reuter) – Aid workers said they found thousands of Rwandan refugees south of the Zairean city of Kisangani on Monday, the largest numbers seen since they fled into the jungle last week.

But aid workers said it was virtually impossible to meet a rebel demand to repatriate all Rwandan refugees within 60 days.

In another setback, the U.N. Children’s Fund UNICEF said men in military uniforms had seized 50 ailing Rwandan Hutu refugee children from a hospital in rebel-held east Zaire on Saturday.

The horror, the horror

“The team which went out today radioed back they have found thousands of refugees on the road between km 30 (mile 19) and km 41 (mile 25), heading southwards,” said U.N. World Food Programme spokeswoman Michele Quintaglie in Nairobi.

“It seems we are talking about 6,000 or 7,000 people but more are emerging from the forest. This is very good news. We are planning to send down a train loaded with 115 tonnes of food today,” she said.

Aldo Ajello, the European Union’s special envoy to Central Africa’s “Great Lakes” region, led the team driving south of Kisangani with Filippo Grandi of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

“Repatriating all the refugees in 60 days would have been difficult enough but now we have to search for them first,” said UNHCR spokesman Paul Stromberg in Kisangani earlier.

“We will be asking the (rebel) alliance for flexibility.”

In addition to the 100,000 missing since last week, 250,000 Rwandan and 50,000 Burundian refugees remain unaccounted for in Zaire since they fled at the start of civil war in October.

Rebel leader Laurent Kabila agreed to give agencies access to search for refugees in talks with aid officials on Sunday but asked for all Rwandan refugees to be sent home within 60 days.

In Geneva, UNICEF said 50 children and several adult Rwandan Hutu refugees at a hospital in Lwiro, 30 km (19 miles) north of the eastern border city of Bukavu, were driven off on trucks on Saturday after men in uniform beat up three medical workers.

“About 20 men in military uniforms drove up in trucks on Saturday morning and fired in the air to warn people not to leave their homes,” said UNICEF spokeswoman Francesca Toso.

“They then stormed into the pediatric hospital, where the children were being treated for serious malnutrition, took them out and put them on trucks, together with some adult refugees, and drove off, warning they might come back,” she added.

Kabila flew to the city of Goma from Kisangani on Monday and said he would meet U.S. envoy Bill Richardson on Wednesday as part of attempts to broker a peaceful end to the civil war.

He planned to see Richardson, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and President Bill Clinton’s envoy, in Lubumbashi after the envoy saw President Mobutu Sese Seko in Kinshasa on Tuesday.

“We are committed to dialogue but that doesn’t stop us from making military gains,” Kabila told Reuters on arrival from Kisangani for talks with commanders of the rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL).

He said rebels had reached the area around Bondo, a town 300 km (185 miles) east of Gbadolite, where Mobutu has his northern jungle palace, and were consolidating their approach to the town of Kikwit, 390 km (240 miles) east of Zaire’s capital Kinshasa.

He said both sides had almost agreed on a venue for face-to-face talks but some details had to be worked out.

The rebel chief says he will meet Mobutu only to discuss how he will stand down as Zaire’s leader after 32 years in power.

Kabila has denied that rebel forces sparked the refugee exodus last week by attacking camps south of Kisangani and has said he wanted an apology from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who called the refugees’ fate “slow extermination”.

The Hutu refugees fled Rwanda in 1994 and are collectively accused by minority Tutsis of genocide in Rwanda the same year.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Dozens dead as refugees begin return to Zaire camp.

By David Fox

BIARO, Zaire, April 28 (Reuter) – Thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees returned to a camp south of the Zairean city Kisangani on Monday, telling of a horrific slaughter that prompted their exodus last week.

Dozens of corpses of those too sick to flee fighting between Hutu refugees, local Zaireans and rebel soldiers lay festering in Biaro camp, 45 km (25 miles) south of Kisangani.

Aid officials and journalists allowed by rebel authorities to visit Biaro camp for the first time in over a week saw the bodies of many refugees who had clearly been hacked to death.

Others among the more than 5,000 refugees who emerged from the forest on Monday spoke of hundreds of dead scattered through the dense undergrowth. Aid officials said dozens more refugees appeared on the verge of death from either illness or injury.

The condition of the refugees clearly shocked aid workers finally allowed access to the area by rebels after Zairean rebel leader Laurent Kabila on Sunday demanded the U.N. repatriate all the remaining Rwandan Hutu refugees in Zaire within 60 days.

But Kabila’s promise to allow aid organisations free access to areas where the refugees are believed to have fled fell flat at the first hurdle as an aid convoy was not allowed past Biaro.

“I am very disappointed we cannot go further,” said Aldo Ajello, the European Union’s special envoy to the Great Lakes region who was on the convoy. “We have been promised full access but it seems not to be the case.”

The refugees said they abandoned Biaro after being attacked by villagers aided by rebel soldiers. They said they repulsed an attack by villagers on April 21 but fled when a huge force returned the following day.

“We just ran, it was terrible,” said one man who emerged trembling from the forest as the aid convoy arrived. “There was shooting and people were being attacked with knives and machetes. It was total panic.”

Rebel authorities have denied any role in the attacks and suggest they were initiated by local Zaireans envious of the free food and medical aid given to the refugees by aid agencies.

But tonnes of food lay scattered around Biaro and nothing appeared to have been looted. Most food seemed to have been destroyed by fires which aid officials said looked as if they had been deliberately set.

Giant rubber bladders used to store drinking water had been slashed open and hoses cut.

Aid workers said it was virtually impossible to meet the rebel demand to repatriate all Rwandan refugees within 60 days.

In addition to up to 100,000 Rwandan refugees missing in the jungle south of Kisangani since last week, 250,000 Rwandan and 50,000 Burundian refugees remain unaccounted for in Zaire since they fled camps at the start of civil war in October.

In Geneva, UNICEF said 50 children and several adult Rwandan Hutu refugees at a hospital in Lwiro, 30 km (19 miles) north of the eastern border city of Bukavu, were driven off on trucks on Saturday after men in uniform beat up three medical workers.

“About 20 men in military uniforms drove up in trucks on Saturday morning and fired in the air to warn people not to leave their homes,” said UNICEF spokeswoman Francesca Toso.

“They then stormed into the pediatric hospital, where the children were being treated for serious malnutrition, took them out and put them on trucks, together with some adult refugees, and drove off, warning they might come back,” she added.

Blankets, pots, clothes and other personal belongings lay scattered throughout Biaro camp on Monday and most refugees trickling back had little else other than what they wore.

One youth wept as he told how he had been separated from his family. He said he had eaten nothing for over a week and gorged himself on biscuits on Monday given him by aid workers.

Filippo Grandi, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR regional coordinator, said he despaired at the work needed to be done to nurse the refugees back to health and repatriate them.

“We were all ready to go two weeks ago. Now we have to start from scratch,” he said.

The U.N. had hoped to start airlifting all the refugees from Biaro and Kasese camps this month but the plan was delayed by a cholera outbreak rebels said could spread to local Zaireans.

The Hutu refugees fled Rwanda in 1994 and are collectively accused by minority Tutsis of genocide in Rwanda the same year.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Rwandan Hutu refugees meet horror in east Zaire.

By David Fox

BIARO CAMP, Zaire, April 29 (Reuter) – The middle-aged Rwandan Hutu refugee was waiting to die in Zaire.

Cared for by his wife and 14-year-old son — the only survivors of his 11-strong immediate family — Mbajo Njirabakaranye sat under a tree in Biaro while scores of flies swarmed on his festering wounds.

His skull had been cracked open by a machete. Maggots could be seen on a bloodied stump that was once his elbow. He rocked back and forth, moaning deliriously to himself.

“Can you help my husband?” his wife asked journalists who were allowed to visit the camp for the first time on Monday since last week when they were barred by Zairean rebels.

“I think he is waiting to die,” she said.

Njirabakaranye was one of some 85,000 Hutu refugees who fled makeshift camps at Biaro and Kasese last Tuesday after they said they were attacked by local villagers backed by Zairean rebels.

His wife said rebels swarmed through their camp in dense forest 41 km (25 miles) south of Kisangani and fired wildly while local Zaireans ran amok with machetes, axes and knives.

Njirabakaranye lost his arm when he vainly attempted to stop a flailing machete, she said. They only noticed his head wound when the refugees had fled from the camp in wild panic.

Her testimony, and that of scores of other refugees who were emerging hesitantly from the forests back to the camps on Monday, undermined rebel assertions they intervened only to save the refugees.

This group was the last big body of refugees known still to be in Zaire after seven months of advances by Laurent Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire.

The Hutu refugees, fully aware of the support given the rebels by Rwanda’s government and army, chose to flee farther west to escape returning home to face reprisals for the 1994 genocide of 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates by Hutus.

Many aid workers fear they found a fate worse than a swift death.

After a harrowing 500 km (300 mile) trek from border areas in eastern Zaire, the refugees were overcome by hunger, illness and exhaustion south of Kisangani and overtaken by the rebels.

Resigned to their fate, they appeared to be waiting to take their chances back home in Rwanda courtesy of a United Nations airlift that was supposed to have started over three weeks ago.

The airlift never got off the ground as rebel authorities said a cholera outbreak in Biaro could spread to local people.

The fact that some of the refugees were prepared to return to the camps showed just how dire their problems were.

Biaro and Kasese had been evacuated so swiftly that they had not carried any of their pots, blankets or sheeting with them.

In the camps, dozens of fly-blown corpses lay among the trees behind what had been a hospital for cholera patients.

Medical workers said some of them had probably been overcome by cholera before the camps emptied, but many also bore horrific wounds. Two dead children lay side by side, one with an arm around the other.

Nearby, Njirabakaranye’s wife shyly unravelled a tattered sarong and brought out a red bank savings book. It showed her husband had prudently saved a small amount every month at the bank branch in Buling village from where he came in 1994. His balance, dated January that year, was 1,800 francs.

“Can you help?” she asked. “You can take this.”

($1=3,000 Rwandan francs)

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Plight of Rwandan refugees touches U.S. envoy.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, April 30 (Reuter) – Like the seasoned U.S. troubleshooter he is, U.S. envoy Bill Richardson stormed into a crowd of Rwandan Hutu refugees in Zaire on Wednesday all smiles and handshakes.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations stopped in front of a young Hutu woman and gently stroked the brow of the child she was carrying.

“She’s cold,” Richardson said.

“She’s dead,” the mother said.

“I’m sorry,” Richardson said, “I’m so sorry,” and his mood appeared to sink as he continued with a flying visit to this sweltering city, Zaire’s third-largest carved out of dense jungle on a bend in the Zaire River.

Bill Richardson

“This is a dire situation…it’s a tragedy,” Richardson told reporters. “We have to do something about it. We have to be able to do something about it.”

Richardson had hoped to visit Biaro refugee camp, 41 km (25 miles) south of Kisangani, but the unexpected delivery of 450 refugees by Zairean rebel authorities tied up the only ferry that can take vehicles across the river.

Instead he mingled with those being taken to a transit camp to await a U.N. airlift that would carry them home to Rwanda after a three-year exile at the end of a seven-month nightmare.

Most of the refugees Richardson saw appeared in good health, but he said he had heard reports of dreadful conditions at Biaro and Kasese camps.

Over 100,000 refugees sheltered at those two camps fled into the forest in wild panic last week after being attacked by local villagers and Tutsi-dominated rebels.

Aid officials believe possibly hundreds of refugees died in the attacks or from illness and hunger as they hid in forest.

On Tuesday, dozens of rotting corpses littered the camps and refugees said hundreds more were scattered in the forest.

Thousands began returning to the camps on Monday, their fears overwhelmed by desperation. They were still trickling back on Wednesday, but aid workers were despairing at a lack of access to the area.

On Tuesday the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR tried to send 11 trucks loaded with supplies to the camps, but rebels — despite a promise by their leader Laurent Kabila on Sunday of “total access” for aid workers — allowed only three to travel.

On Wednesday, a second convoy was cancelled following the unexpected arrival of the refugee train in Kisangani.

In a meeting with Kisangani’s governor, Richardson told him the international community expected the rebel Alliance to loosen its grip on the areas to where refugees have fled.

“I ask you to allow access to all aid workers,” he said. “It is important, vitally important that they are allowed to go about their business in the best possible way.”

The mother Richardson spoke to at the ferry dock later climbed aboard a UNHCR truck clutching the lifeless body of her daughter.

She was to spend Wednesday night in a transit camp near Kisangani’s international airport before being carried home on an Ilyushin aircraft on Thursday, the second day of a U.N. airlift.

Rebel leader Laurent Kabila has given aid agencies 60 days from Thursday to repatriate all Rwandan refugees in Zaire.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Survival of the fittest among Rwandan refugees.

By David Fox

BIARO, Zaire, May 2 (Reuter) – Gaston stands out among his fellow Rwandan Hutu refugees. He is clearly better fed and in better health than most of his compatriots.

He makes no apology for this as he stands watch over a tent sheltering his sister and dozens of other emaciated children to whom aid workers are giving rehydration fluid at this makeshift refugee camp 40 km (25 miles) south of Kisangani.

Despite more than two years in a refugee camp at Goma in eastern Zaire and then a 500 km (300 mile) trek westwards, Gaston seems to be doing very well.

“It is because I am nearly a doctor,” he says. “I was studying medicine when the war came and since then I have been helping in the camps. For this you get better treatment.”

“Better treatment” is a refugee euphemism for privileges granted by the thuggish Interahamwe militiamen and former Rwandan army soldiers who have controlled the fate of over a million Hutu refugees since 1994.

The refugees fled their homeland to escape reprisal for the genocide of over 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates.

Survival of the fittest

Most went home last November when Zairean rebels, drawing initially on ethnic Tutsis and with the support of the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government and army, began an offensive that has brought them close to the Zairean capital Kinshasa.

The first target of the rebels last year was to break up the dozens of sprawling refugee camps in eastern Zaire, from which Hutu extremists were launching raids back into Rwanda.

The Interahamwe had a stanglehold on the camps in subtle and not so subtle ways, Gaston said, and quickly pressed into service anyone with useful skills, such as a trainee doctor.

“There was no choice…Either I worked for them and they looked after me or I didn’t work for them and they killed me and my family,” said Gaston.

How he came to be in the camps in the first place was a mixture of bad luck and worse judgment, he said.

Recuperating from malaria at home near Gitarama when the Rwanda Patriotic Front launched the offensive that ended the genocide, Gaston was determined to stay when thousands of his fellow Hutus began fleeing their homes.

“When I realised I was the only Hutu left, I decided to go as well. At university I had some Tutsi friends, at home I had some Tutsi friends, but I knew I would be blamed if I stayed.”

When rebels raided the camps and over a million Rwandans went home, Gaston says the Interahamwe forced him to flee west.

His usefulness paid off on the trek that ended south of Kisangani, when thousands died of hunger or illness. “When food was low, they (the Interahamwe) would steal from local people or take from refugees who were not so useful,” he says. “I would take what they gave me and try to share it with my family.”

The Zairean rebels overtook the column in mid-March and it was at this point, Gaston said, that even the refugee leaders decided to go no further. They quickly established makeshift camps and the U.N. aid agencies swiftly moved into gear with food, water and plans for a massive airlift back to Rwanda.

On April 21 and 22, however, the Biaro and Kasese camps were attacked by Zairean locals and rebel soldiers — apparently to retaliate for the murder of six villagers by refugees — and the camps emptied into the surrounding jungle.

“I myself saw only six soldiers where we were, but they were definitely Rwandan, definitely Tutsis,” he said. “I heard them speaking, shouting. When we tried to fight back against the Zaireans they started shooting everywhere.”

“In the camps we hear lots of rumours but we never heard about the killing of the six. We think this is a complete lie.”

In those two days of fighting and the following week in the forest, Gaston said he saw things he will never forget.

“My father died in Goma, my two brothers died coming here. I don’t know where my other brother is. My mother is over there with my other brother and sister and this is my other sister,” he said, pointing to a naked skeletal figure on a tarpaulin.

Around him are people with dreadful wounds. One woman has been shot through the chest. When medical workers unwrap her home-made bandage, maggots tumble from the wound.

As Gaston talks, another fitter-looking refugee is tying a scrawled sign to a tree with an arrow indicating where people from Gisenye should gather. The organisers are back at work.

He shouts something at Gaston who apologises and says he has to go. “They need me do work,” he says.

A doctor from the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF told Reuters that Gaston’s sister would probably be dead by Friday afternoon.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Over 100 Rwandans suffocate in Zaire refugee train.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, May 4 (Reuter) – More than 100 Hutu refugees from Rwanda suffocated or were crushed to death on Sunday in a train carrying them from a refugee camp in Zaire to be airlifted back to their country, U.N. officials said.

“I think this is one of the most horrifying events I have ever seen in all my years as an aid worker,” said Kilian Kleinschmidt, head of the Kisangani office of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

Aid workers and journalists saw dozens of bodies tumbling from six open wagons as the train pulled into Kisangani station in northeastern Zaire.

Those packed inside the wagons and still living leapt over the sides as the train came to a stop after a two-hour journey from Biaro camp 41 km (25 miles) away.

Hundreds were reported injured, more than 50 of them in serious condition.

Kleinschmidt called on the Zairean rebel authorities who control the area and run the railways to hand over full control of the process of repatriating Rwandan refugees.

“There has been too much death already,” he said. “Whoever is responsible for this has to let us do our job… Whoever is involved in this has to improve.”

The rebel authorities had told UNHCR officials to expect around 2,800 refugees. But it was clear that the six open-topped carriages carried hundreds more.

Survivors said thousands of refugees had swarmed onto the train as it pulled out of a station near Biaro. In the crush that followed, the weak, children and dozens of desperately ill adults were forced to the bottom of the carriages.

Those watching the arrival were unaware that under thousands of upright refugees lay the bodies of dozens who died during the journey.

Three photographers who travelled in the engine compartment had no idea the tragedy had taken place.

“Only when he got off could we see what happened,” said Stephen Ferry, an American photograher aboard the train. “At the beginning of the journey we could see some people shouting for us to stop. We told the driver but he said no problem.”

“After that the journey seemed fine… Actually we and they seemed glad to be leaving the camp.”

“Throughout the journey I could have been taking pictures of dead people … they just hadn’t fallen down,” said Kadir van Lohuizen, a Dutch photographer.

At Kisangani station, aid workers tried to help pull those still alive from the jumble of limbs and bodies at the bottom of the wagons.

One man moaned:” My wife died two months ago and now my only son has died.” Next to him was a man constantly crossing himself mumbling “My God, my God” in Swahili as he sat in the middle of a pile of dead bodies from the second wagon.

UNHCR spokesman Paul Stromberg also called on the rebel authorities to immediately allow more cooperation between aid organisations and the local administration.

“We need to have control of the trains if we are to be responsible for them,” he said.

Aid officials have complained that they have not had control over the evacuation of the refugees from the camp despite promises of cooperation from rebel leader Laurent Kabila.

Rebel officials, stung by criticism of their part in an attack on refugees at Biaro camp nearly two weeks ago, have since been loading thousands of refugees onto an old narrow-gauge railway train and dumping them at Kisangani station. The numbers arriving have overwhelmed the UNHR.

The refugees, remnants of over one million Hutus who fled Rwanda in 1994 to escape reprisal for the genocide of over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, fled west deeper into Zaire when the rebels began their offensive last year.

Bairo and nearby Kasese camp have had up to 80,000 Rwandan refugees but some are still in the forests where they fled after the attack on the camp. Thousands are now drifting back.

Over 60 refugees died overnight at Biaro, officials said, and hundreds more will die in the next few days unless medical facilities are swiftly imporved.

A further 1,132 refugees earlier flew to Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Sunday, bringing the total since the airlift began on Tuesday to 5,035.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Rwandan Hutus killed on refugee train.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, May 5 (Reuter) – Photographers thought the Rwandan Hutus were waving and cheering as they left by train from their stinking, disease-ridden refugee camp in eastern Zaire.

Only later did they discover that the people they photographed could literally have been shouting for their lives.

The train which left Biaro station on Sunday promised the end of a pitiful three-year odyssey for the thousands of Rwandans who clambered aboard the rickety open carriages on the way to a United Nations airlift back home.

Just over two hours later, as it pulled into Lubunga Station in Kisangani, it emerged that they had undergone a horrific ordeal in which more than 100 of them were killed — suffocated or crushed to death.

“I think this is one of the most horryfing events I have ever seen in all my years as an aid worker,” said Kilian Kleinschmidt, head of the Kisangani operation of the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, who was at the station.

Dozens of bodies tumbled from the carriages as their sides were let down to allow the refugees to get off and make their way to a ferry across the river.

“At the begining of the journey we could see some people shouting for us to stop. We told the driver, but he said no problem,” said Stephen Ferry, a U.S. photograher who was in the train’s engine compartment.

“After that the journey seemed fine…Actually we and they seemed glad to be leaving the camp.”

UNHCR officals told Reuters earlier that they had no control over who travelled on the rebel-operated railway that had been carrying refugees into Kisangani for the past five days.

Paul Stromberg, a UNHCR spokesman, said U.N. trucks were carrying desperate cases out of the camps by truck. The fittest were making their own way to the railway station.

U.N. officials had complained for days that rebel authorities, stung by allegations that they had attacked the camps two weeks ago and forced refugees to flee, were dumping refugees in Kisangani by the unannounced trainload.

Thousands of refugees were still drifting back to Biaro and the nearby Kasese camp on Sunday although dozens of people were dying there every day from illness, hunger or wounds.

The refugees, remnants of over one million Hutus who fled Rwanda in 1994 to escape reprisal for the genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus, fled west deeper into Zaire when rebels launched an offensive last year.

One group of 80,000 trekked more than 500 km (300 miles) through dense forest to the region near Kisangani, Zaire’s third city, where they were overwhelmed by illness, hunger and exhaustion.

They finally seemed resigned to returning to Rwanda, but rebel authorities delayed a U.N.-planned repatriation on the grounds that a cholera outbreak could spread to local villagers.

The rebels also a lock-out on the camps but aid officials said all the refugees had fled into the jungle after two days of attacks by local Zaireans and rebel soldiers.

Aid officials say they cannot estimate how many people died in the fighting and the week following spent hiding in the forest. Refugees returning to the camps said hundreds of bodies littered the forest.

UNHCR officials said they were given three hours notice on Sunday that a train carrying 2,800 refugees would be arriving at the station. When it finally pulled in, it was clear it had been packed with hundreds more.

As survivors climbed down from the train, bodies of people who had been crushed to death fell down, piling on top of those which had already been squeezed down.

“Throughout the journey I could have been taking pictures of dead people…They just hadn’t fallen down,” said Kadir van Lohuizen, a Dutch photographer.

Aid officials who had returned by road from Biaro camp and were waiting for a river ferry helped to pull those still alive from the jumble of bodies.

One man shouted “Francine,Francine” as he scrambled through corpses looking for his wife. He found her dead beneath the crush.

Nearby a man constantly crossing himself mumbled “My God, my God” in Swahili as he sat in the middle of a pile of bodies from the second wagon.

Survivors said thousands of people had swarmed onto the train as it left a station near Biaro. The weak, children and dozens of desperately ill adults aboard were forced to the bottom of the carriage in the crush that followed.

Stromberg called on rebel authorities to allow more cooperation between aid organisations and officials. “We need to have control of the trains if we are to be responsible for them,” he said.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Zairean rebels dump Rwanda refugees by truck.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, May 5 (Reuter) – The United Nations averted an attempt to move more Rwandan refugees by train on Monday but Zairean rebels brought hundreds by truck and dumped them by the bodies of those killed in a stampede on the railway.

The refugees are from camps in the forests south of the Zairean city of Kisangani and the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR is keen to repatriate them by air to Rwanda.

Ninety-one of them were suffocated or crushed to death in packed railway wagons on Sunday during a two-hour journey to Kisangani from Biaro camp.

U.N. officials said on Monday they had to plead with the Zairean rebel authorities not to attempt immediately another evacuation of the Hutu refugees by rail.

“We were told this afternoon that the train was going to return and collect more refugees,” said Kilian Kleinschmidt, head of the UNHCR office in Kisangani.

“We didn’t have to lie down on the tracks but we really had to persuade them not to go at the moment,” he added.

The rebel authorities did, however, dump six trucks containing over 500 refugees at Kisangani after bringing them from Biaro, 41 kms (25 miles) south of the city.

They were dropped at the ferry jetty on the Zaire river just metres away from dozens of corpses left from Sunday.

Kleinschmidt said he had told rebel officials that it was essential for aid agencies to get more cooperation from authorities if the repatriation of tens of thousands of refugees still in Zaire was to continue without another disaster.

“We need the cooperation of the military…They are good for crowd control. But we also have to be directly involved in deciding how many people can safely be carried,” he said.

A further 2,606 refugees flew back to Rwanda on 10 flights on Monday, bringing the total since the airlift began to 7,641.

Aid officials were clearly furious that Monday’s truck convoy contained too many people crammed into too few vehicles.

The UNHCR calculates a big truck can safely carry up to 60 people but the first three trucks on Monday unloaded over 300.

Officals of the rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL) were hard to find in Kisangani on Monday. One official, who identified himself as Betrand Busimo, a press officer, told Reuters that no one was available or authorised to speak to reporters.

UNHCR officials were reluctant on Monday to blame the AFDL in public for Sunday’s tragedy. Other U.N. officials, who declined to be identified, said UNHCR should share some blame, saying both were in too much of a rush to move out refugees.

“Safeguards have to be implemented now to ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again,” said a U.N. official.

UNHCR spokesman Paul Stromberg told Reuters that the agency did not have anyone at Biaro station when the train was loaded.

“We have been unable to establish a permanent presence at the camp and this obviously doesn’t help,” he said.

The Rwandan Hutu refugees delivered on Monday looked shocked on seeing a pile of corpses near where they were dropped off.

Local Zaireans taunted them with bananas and young Zairean children ostentatiously gorged on fruit before the cowed group.

One Zairean woman, however, screamed at her compatriots to leave them and bought bananas and gave them to refugee children.

As she left, one Rwandan refugee woman called her an angel.

The refugees, remnants of more than a million Hutus who fled to Zaire in 1994 to escape reprisal for the genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus, fled deeper into the country when Zaire’s Tutsi-dominated rebels launched an offensive last October.

One group of 80,000 trekked more than 500 km (300 miles) through dense forest to near Kisangani, Zaire’s third city, where they were overwhelmed by illness, hunger and exhaustion.

They finally seemed resigned to returning to Rwanda, but rebel authorities delayed a U.N.-planned repatriation on the grounds a cholera outbreak could spread to local villagers.

All the refugees then fled into the jungle after two days of attacks by what they said were local Zaireans and rebels.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Rwandan refugee mother abandons daughter in camp.

By David Fox

BIARO CAMP, Zaire, May 10 (Reuter) – Rwandan refugee Thesela has a bright-eyed six-year-old son who wears an old-fashioned nightdress and holds your hand while you talk to his mother.

She also had a four-year-old daughter, a shivering fever-racked skeleton wrapped in rags and strapped to her back until she abandoned her on Friday at a muddy roadside in Biaro camp.

Thesela says that she has not seen her husband since the whole family fled Biaro camp in northeastern Zaire on April 21 to escape attacks by local villagers and Zairean rebels.

She cannot find anyone she knows among the 30,000 refugees who have drifted back to Biaro since the camp attacks. The community system which helped her family through three years of exile from Rwanda is shattered, and Thesela has just given up.

Thesela dumped her daughter on the roadside a few paces away from a train she said she hoped would take her small family to Kisangani and then on a United Nations airlift back to Rwanda.

She had been refused permission by Zairean Red Cross workers to board the train because she arrived at the station too late.

She was late, she said, because she had no one to help her queue for food and water for her children, keep an eye on their meagre belongings, fend off raids by other desperate refugees and reach the station.

“My daughter is going to die,” she told Reuters after dropping her child by the roadside and walking back to the camp.

“I hope that you can help her, but there is nothing I can do anymore,” she added. “It is just me and my son now.”

While aid agencies are used to dealing with what are officially called “unaccompanied minors” in refugee camps, they have been overwhelmed in recent days by the numbers at Biaro.

“These are not unaccompanied children,” said an official of the Irish aid organisation Concern. “These children have been deliberately abandoned by their parents — some to give them a better chance, but most because they can’t cope.”

More than two million Rwandan Hutus fled their homeland in 1994 to escape reprisals for the genocide of 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates. Some had blood on their hands and some were innocent.

They settled in camps in Tanzania and eastern Zaire and established a community routine mirroring their life in Rwanda.

Camps were laid out like miniature maps of Rwanda, with extended families grouped in communes and prefectures named after at home. A tightly-knit co-existence swiftly emerged.

From a young age, children were drilled into learning by rote the necessities of refugee life. Often the first words they could speak were the name of their family, village or commune.

Those always fragile family links are in ruins in Biaro.

“Most of the children in this tent have no idea who they are, let alone where they come from,” said Annick Jeantet of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “I think they will have very little chance of finding their parents again.”

Family structures broke down as refugees fled west deeper into Zaire last year instead of returning to Rwanda with 685,000 others at the start of a revolt by Tutsi-dominated rebels.

Aid organisations take photographs of all unaccompanied children they find. These are displayed in communes in Rwanda where parents scrutinise them to see if they recognise anyone.

The chances of finding a lost child are made more difficult by the fact that parents often cannot relate a photograph of a gaunt, hollow-eyed child to their memory of their healthy child.

Thelesa’s daughter was taken by aid workers to a UNICEF tent to join hundreds of other children who were lost or abandoned.

As a drip was inserted into her arm, a photographer questioned her and took three grainy pictures. On the back of each he wrote: “Name – unknown, family – unknown, district -unknown”.

A small plastic bracelet attached to her wrist said the same thing.

“The chances of this girl surviving are slim,” said an aid worker. “The chances of her being reunited with her family are probably non-existent.”

On Saturday the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR planned to airlift nearly 300 unaccompanied children to Rwanda. It has so far sent more than 1,500 children from Biaro since April 27 home alone.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Run-down zoo mirrors life in general in Kisangani.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, May 11 (Reuter) – The last animal at Kisangani zoo was given what its keepers regard as the ultimate tribute when it died last month. They refused to eat it.

The animal, a crocodile which zookeepers said had spent at least 20 years in captivity at the Kisangani Biological Gardens, was instead dumped below the picturesque Tsope falls, where it drifted into the Zaire river from where it originally came.

“It hadn’t eaten for a long time and was sick,” said Moses Imwenza, now the only remaining keeper at the zoo. “You can’t eat a sick crocodile, so when it died we pushed it back.”

Kisangani’s zoo, set in lush, overgrown gardens on the banks of the Tsope river, is a metaphor for the faded glory this central African city once enjoyed.

Made famous in the west by Joseph Conrad’s novel “Heart of Darkness” and more recently by V.S. Naipaul’s “A bend in the River”, Kisangani is a dusty, sweltering city on the frontier of the jungle. Its sole industry seems to be petty swindling.

Imwenza told Reuters at its peak in the 1960s the zoo had dozens of animals, including lions, leopards and gorillas, and hundreds of people would visit at weekends to picnic in the gardens.

Today, the jungle is taking over the cages and enclosures and the only animals to be seen are birds flitting through trees and lizards warming themselves in dappled patches of sunlight.

Kisangani city itself seems to be in the process of being slowly swallowed up by the jungle of northeastern Zaire.

Once-elegant Belgian colonial houses lie in ruins on either side of the river that splits the city, Zaire’s third largest.

Roads have not been repaired for years and streetlights were long ago vandalised and looted for any wire they might contain.

Residents blame three decades of neglect, corruption and misrule under Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko for Kisangani’s decline, but others say the problems are more deep-rooted here.

“It is very hard to warm to Kisangani or the people,” said a missionary who has spent decades in the region. “Sometimes I wonder what purpose Kisangani has.”

In its heyday, Kisangani was the last navigable port before the Stanley Falls on the Zaire river. Its population was swelled by the arrival of white traders and Indian merchants keen to try to make a profit from the diamonds, ivory and gold in the area.

But it also developed a reputation for ruthlessness, a place where you could have your throat cut for looking at someone in the wrong way or where a whole village would be wiped out because of a rumour that its residents had found a valuable gem.

Today every other shop is still a diamond dealer, but few are open. Gaudy signs boasting “Rambo diamonds” or “Star of the east” entice small diggers, but most prefer to deal directly with Indian buyers who trade furtively from their hotel rooms.

“If you know what you are doing you can buy diamonds here for up to 40 percent less than anywhere else in the world,” one buyer said. “The problem is you have to pay so many people just to get established.”

The Indian dealers are buying up to $250,000 worth of gems per trip, taking them back to India for cutting, polishing and resale and then using the profits to air freight basic goods to Kisangani.

These are then sold at enormously inflated prices in the city’s markets to finance another spree of gem-buying. “This is Kisangani’s economy,” said another diamond dealer.

Residents welcomed Laurent Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire when they took the city on March 15 on their offensive that has taken them to near the capital Kinshasa.

But few Kisangani residents have felt any difference in their lives since then. The only industries still running are the power station above the Tsope falls and the nearby brewery.

Water costs $10 a bottle, tinned food is well past its sell-by date and aid workers and the few remaining journalists in the city are weary of a diet of stringy chicken and banana chips.

Even rabble-rousing reports on rebel radio describing either Kinshasa’s fall or imminent fall fail to motivate. “So what,” said one man listening. “Nothing will change. Kisangani will be the same.”

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Cynical numbers game continues over Zaire refugees.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, May 13 (Reuter) – A new round of a cynical numbers game is under way between Rwanda and U.N. aid agencies over how many Rwandan Hutu refugees remain in Zaire.

More than 20,000 have been repatriated since April 27 in a U.N. airlift from the northeastern city of Kisangani. But questions remain over how many are left behind.

An aid mission was sent at the weekend to an area south of Kisangani which had not been visited by U.N. officials for weeks. It discovered thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees, many on the verge of death.

Thousands more refugees are arriving in Congo after walking across the breadth of Zaire, a country the size of western Europe. Some 17,000 have reached the border with Angola.

Nevertheless, the head of the Rwandan government’s refugee repatriation programme says there are only 30,000 refugees left in Zaire, in addition to some 20,000 found south of Kisangani.

This is vastly different from U.N. and other aid agency estimates of between 200,000 and 300,000 Rwandan refugees left in Zaire, most of them unaccounted for since they fled a rebellion by Tutsi-dominated rebels in the east last year.

Rwanda’s government says it wants all Hutu refugees to return and rebuild the country. So why would it say so few are left?

U.N. agencies say they want all the refugees to go back. So why would it inflate the numbers — as Rwanda alleges?

“Because one of us is lying,” a senior aid official told Reuters. “And it isn’t us.” Rwandan officials, in turn, say it is the U.N. refugee agency that is lying.

The Rwandan refugees are the rump of more than two million who fled to Zaire and Tanzania in 1994 in fear of reprisals for the genocide of an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates

They included tens of thousands of former Rwandan troops and Interahamwe militiamen who led the three-month mass slaughter. In addition, there were greater numbers of their dependants.

The Rwandan government, while urging all refugees to return, says those who took part in the genocide must be punished and is pleased that the rebels, by uprooting the refugees from their camps, destroyed the bases of Hutu extremists raiding Rwanda.

Removing the threat of cross-border incursions by Hutus based in the refugee camps is one of the reasons why Rwanda says it supports the rebellion of Laurent Kabila. But it denies sending its own troops to fight alongside the Zairean rebels.

Some 685,000 Hutu refugees returned home from Zaire last year but the hard core trekked westwards deeper into Zaire.

At the time of that exodus, the Rwandan government, backed by U.S. aerial reconnaissance of the thick jungle, said most had gone home and accused UNHCR of inflating the original numbers.

In March up to 100,000 Rwandan refugees stopped south of Kisangani, overwhelmed by hunger, sickness and exhaustion. They were overtaken by the advancing rebels.

Aid workers say the rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL) cannot have a tight grip on much of the territory they have seized, which amounts to three quarters of Africa’s third largest country.

They say they believe behind rebel lines are large numbers of Rwandan Hutu extremists hiding in the jungle and forests. They fear rebels are hunting them down and killing them to spare the risk, expense and trouble of repatriating them to Rwanda.

Some aid workers quote rebel commanders as saying that this is what they are doing and that they have to consider all Hutus hiding in the jungle as extremists, even women and children.

In April the rebels sealed off the area south of Kisangani, where aid agencies had located nearly 100,000 refugees.

For two weeks aid workers had no access to refugees at two main camps and the thousands more scattered in the forests.

When aid workers were finally allowed back they discovered a massacre, or series of massacres, had taken place.

Of more than 5,000 refugees treated by aid agency medical staff when they regained access to Biaro camp on July 27, nearly 30 percent had machete wounds.

Hundreds had been shot. Survivors said Zairean villagers and rebels attacked them. The rebels denied any role and said villagers attacked in revenge for the killing of six Zaireans.

Despite promises by Kabila of free access, aid workers have still been denied access to vast parts of eastern Zaire where refugees have either fled or are feared to be dead.

Officials on a train south of Kisangani at the weekend reported a smell of rotting corpses at the 52 km mark.

Rebels last week refused to give security and cooperation guarantees to allow access to eastern Zaire for a U.N. team sent to investigate allegations of massacres by rebel forces.

“We may never know how many refugees have been killed, have died or are still out there,” said a U.N. official. “At the moment all we can do is try and evacuate those we can get our hands on.”

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Rwanda refugee three-year odyssey ends in two days.

By David Fox

KIGALI, Rwanda, May 16 (Reuter) – There was no movie, duty-free trolley, or in-flight service of any kind on the Latvian-crewed Ilyushin plane from Kisangani, the jungle capital of northeast Zaire, to Rwanda.

But for the 265 Rwandan Hutu refugees aboard the flight, the first for most, ended three years in exile, a six-month trek to escape rebels and weeks of suffering south of Kisangani city.

Aboard the Ilysuhin, there were no seatbelts, seats or safety demonstration. Refugees merely shuffled on and squatted, facing backwards, as the aircraft’s giant engines screamed for takeoff.

The refugees on the U.N. airlift home smiled nervously as they felt the plane leave the ground. Minutes later they seemed as relaxed as a frequent-flyer chalking up air miles in business class.

“I have never been on a plane before,” said beaming Gabriel Nsamanje with seven family members gathered around him.

The plane carrying Nsamanje and his family Thursday pushed the number of refugees flown back to Rwanda since the U.N. airlift began in earnest from Kisangani April 27 to more than 25,000.

After two years in a refugee camp and a grueling six-month walk through some of the densest forests in the world, the Nsamanje family was whisked back home by train, ferry, truck and plane.

They left Biaro refugee camp, 25 miles south of Kisangani, Wednesday on a narrow-gauge train that trundled through bamboo groves before they were dumped just south of the Zaire River.

They then took a listing vehicle ferry across the river before they were loaded on to trucks which took them to a transit camp near Kisangani’s international airport and a meager supper of beans and cornmeal. They flew home the next day.

Nsamanje and family were among hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled deeper into Zaire last October to escape the Zairian rebel offensive that has now almost reached Kinshasa.

From their camp near Bukavu on the Rwanda-Zaire border, the family first walked to Walikale and then on to Tingi Tingi.

They were almost overtaken by rebels before the toughest part of their odyssey, the walk to Kisangani. Then, overcome by hunger, exhaustion and illness, nearly 100,000 Hutu refugees collapsed into makeshift camps at Biaro and nearby Kasese.

Tens of thousands more remain scattered through the forests of Zaire. Some have even made their way across the entire country, a land the size of western Europe, to reach Congo.

“I can’t say why we kept going,” Nsamanje told Reuters. “We kept looking for a way around the rebels because we had heard they would kill refugees, but we couldn’t find it.”

Asked if he was glad to be returning, Nsamanje gives what is the standard reply for a refugee on the airlift, “Very happy.”

The response is surprising, given that more than 100,000 Rwandan Hutus are held in Rwanda’s jails and lockups suspected of involvement in the 1994 genocide of an estimated 800,000 Hutus and Tutsi moderates.

As the plane gained height, a journalist explained to the refugees they should swallow to equalize the pressure change in the cabin. Laughter erupted as word was passed round and their ears “popped.”

Refugee mothers suckled their infants and wizened old men rolled banana leaves into make-do cigarettes. The crew vanished on to the flight deck and the refugees gaped at the entrails of the plane, a former passenger aircraft gutted to carry cargo.

At touchdown, refugees burst into applause and peered into the dusk as the tailgate was lowered. They saw more trucks waiting to take them to what would be their last night as refugees.

Nsamanje registered Friday with Rwandan and U.N. officials before leaving on a truck for his home town, Gisenji.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Life and death in Rwanda, Zaire and Tanzania (1996)

Rwanda still burying its dead as Hutus return.

By David Fox

NYAMATA, Rwanda, Nov 22 (Reuter) – As hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees make their way home from a two-year exile in Zaire, Rwanda is still burying victims of the genocide that sparked the guilt-ridden exodus.

In the middle of a wrecked church in this rural hamlet, about 50 km (28 miles) south of Kigali, Tutsi workers were digging a mass grave to bury the bodies of around 2,000 people — many of them members of their own families.

The bodies were packed into black bags, bones and skulls bursting through what has been their fragile coffins. Cobwebs had replaced flesh and dust covered the grim scene like a shroud.

Just down the road at Dihiro transit camp, nearly 2,000 refugees who had fled Nyamata in the wake of the 1994 genocide were unpacking their meagre possessions. It was to be their last night as refugees. The next day they would return home.

The problems Rwanda faces in reconciling its population are starkly illustrated by Nyamata, scene of some of the worst atrocities of 1994 when Hutu Interahamwe militia supported by the former Rwandan army massacred up to a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in an orgy of bloodshed.

The violence was sparked by the April 6 shooting down of a plane carrying Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana back from peace talks with the then rebel Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in Tanzania and ended only when the RPF overthrew the government later that year.

Thousands of ordinary Hutus are accused of participating in the slaughter — either by merely pointing out the homes of Tutsis or by actively helping hunt down and kill them.

Marc Nsabimana, one of those digging the grave at Nyamata church, told Reuters that 16 members of his family died in the slaughter. Their bodies had remained unburied as local authorities debated whether to turn the church into a shrine.

Nyamata church ... thousands massacred

“They are here, in these bags,” he said. “They died here and so it is good they should be buried here.”

Nsabimana said over 1,500 people had crammed into the church on April 11 after five days of increasing attacks on Tutsis.

That night the Interahamwe, watched by army troops, climbed onto the roof and sprayed bullets on those within. Any who tried to flee were scythed down with machetes or clubbed to death.

Today, sunlight streams through the bullet holes in the roof lighting up the grim interior to reveal walls marked with blood like a macabre stained glass window.

Nsabimana said he recognised some of his former neighbours as they were trucked towards the transit camp earlier that day.

He bears them no ill-will, he said. “If they are guilty then the authorities will deal with them.”

Some, it seems, are already being dealt with.

At Runda transit camp closer to Kigali, a group of around 40 men were separated from their fellow refugees for a different kind of registration.

These men, soldiers at the camp said, were members of the former Rwandan army who some say drove their fellow Hutu like cattle across the border to Zaire hoping to hide in their midst as they were routed by the RPF.

They and the Interahamwe lost their grip on vast refugee camps that resulted when mainly Tutsi rebels in eastern Zaire laid seige to them during a rout of Zairean governement troops.

The former Rwandan soldiers at Runda looked cowed but fitter and healthier than their fellow refugees. Heads bowed, they deferentially listened as a government minister told them they would all, in time, be questioned on their role in the genocide.

Those suspected of involvement would face military tribunals, he said. Civilians would be tried in civil courts.

With over 80,000 people already crammed into Rwanda’s jails on charges of genocide, it is clear that at this time the government has no choice but to send them home.

(c) Reuters Limited 1996

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Zaire brewery’s decline metaphor for a faded town.

By David Fox

BUKAVU, Zaire, Nov 29 (Reuter) – Napoleon said an army marches on its stomach but for fighters in Africa’s latest conflict it is beer that fuels their victories — and their defeats.

It is understandable, therefore, that officials at the largest brewery in Kivu province are somewhat reluctant to talk about what their factory has undergone in the past month. Who knows which force will arrive to demand “wages” next?

“Times are very hard at the moment,” said one official of Bukavu Brewery, the dominating — in fact only currently operating — industry of this sleepy lakeside town. “We will run out of supplies soon. December 15 will be the last day of beer.”

It is surprising that any business at all is being done.

Twice looted — once by Zairean government troops and former Rwandan army soldiers and then by the conquering Zairean Banyamulenge rebels — the brewery is nevertheless a hive of activity.

The brewery, officials said, is one of four in Zaire owned by Heineken, the Dutch brewing giant. At capacity it employed over 400 people and produced some 30,000 hectolitres of Primus brand beer a month.

Today there are just 100 staff left, mainly involved in bottling the beer remaining in the vast vats. With no hops, malt or yeast, officials say they cannot produce any more.

“This was a profitable factory that was well run,” said one official. “It is a pity to see it going down.” He said money made from sales of remaining beer was going towards paying wages and bills.

The problems faced by Bukavu brewery are shared by other traders and businessmen in eastern Zaire. The area used to rely on Kinshasha for supplies, but now that rebels control a vast sweep of the province lines have been cut.

Small traders rely on frequent visits to Rwanda for supplies, but for a big company like the brewery — with interests in government controlled-Zaire — such a step would be political suicide.

Elsewhere in Bukavu, there are signs that life is returning to normal. The town, taken by the rebels on October 29, escaped much of the street-to-street fighting witnessed in Goma.

Aid organisations estimate three-quarters of the population fled — looting every shop as they went — but in the past two days they have been pouring back to town.

The streets are in appalling condition — a four-wheel drive vehicle is more necessary in town than the countryside — and puncture repair shops have sprung up on every corner.

Roadside beauty salons have reopened, vendors sell petrol from tin drums brought from Rwanda and curio sellers scramble for the attention of any vehicle carrying a foreigner.

There is no shortage or food. The countryside is lush and the outskirts of town are packed with vendors selling pineapples, avocadoes and bananas. Pigs wallow in the mud outside small butcheries and chickens peck hopefully at the dusty pavements.

But only two small general stores are open — selling toothpaste, soap and powdered milk from Rwanda — and there seem to be no customers.

At night the town is deserted. Locals say there is an unofficial curfew but this is ignored by off-duty rebel officials who drink in the bar of the splendid but faded Residence Hotel.

A few local good-time girls vie for the attention of the handful of journalists still in town. They sip their Primus and plan their departures — preferably before the beer runs out.

(c) Reuters Limited 1996

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Ordeal of Marie shows futility of Zaire airdrops.

By David Fox

CHIMANGA, Zaire, Dec 1 (Reuter) – Marie Nyiratezimana, a Rwandan Hutu refugee, lay hidden for 13 days in a maize field near the sprawling hillside camp that has been her home for the past two-and-a-half years.

Her left leg was sliced almost through at the knee. Her left arm was a festering mass of sores caused by the bullets that tore into her as she fled a massacre of hundreds of her compatriots nearly two weeks ago.

Since then she has lived on a handful of unripe bananas and a bucket of water provided by local villagers. Through scorching sun and torrential rain she stoically swatted the scores of flies that settled on the filthy blood-stained dress that was her only protection.

How she survived baffled a doctor and Red Cross workers who finally reached her on Saturday. On Sunday she was resting at a hospital near the rebel-held eastern Zairean town of Bukavu.

Throughout Marie’s ordeal, United Nations-backed meetings were taking place to discuss how the international community could help the possibly hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees like her trapped in eastern Zaire.

On Friday, following another meeting in Ottawa, Canada, it seemed the response would be to airdrop food and supplies.

“If food or medical supplies dropped just three feet away from Marie it would be too far to help her,” said the doctor who treated her on Sunday. “This woman needed expert personal attention.”

Marie’s plight was first raised with United Nations officials in eastern Zaire on November 26 by Reuters journalists who uncovered evidence of a massacre at Chimanga on November 17.

She was one of around 3,000 Hutu refugees who stayed put as Interahamwe militiamen and former Rwandan army troops — who locals say were included in the 25,000-person camp — fled west after Zairean rebels laid siege to them.

The rebels, Marie told Reuters, gathered the remaining refugees and told them they would be repatriated. Instead, as they lined up expecting to go home, the rebels lobbed grenades into the group and opened fire.

At least 300 people were killed. The rest, including more than 100 with serious bullet and shrapnel wounds, fled into the surrounding bush, villagers say.

Aid officials say they were unable to visit the area to help survivors because rebel authorities in Bukavu will not allow them to travel more than 30 km (18 miles) from the town. Authorities say they cannot guarantee their safety.

Chimanga, about 100 km (60 miles) south of Bukavu, was finally reached by a Medicien Sans Frontiers (MSF) doctor and Bukavu Red Cross workers who got special permision to accompany Reuters journalists returning to the area.

As they tended to her wounds, a group of rebel soldiers suddenly appeared and insisted the convoy left. After much persuasion, they agreed to allow aid workers to take Marie and five other seriously injured people back to Bukavu.

One man, shot through the leg, was found hiding in a filthy pig pen. As he was stretchered out he gasped and shook with terror when he saw the rebel soldiers.

Local villagers simply refused to talk to aid workers while the soldiers were present. They signalled furtively behind their backs to indicate where a six-year-old girl — shot through the hip — was hiding. A mother and her two children, all with bullet wounds, were found nearby.

Aid workers are reluctant to call publicly for an intervention force in the region for fear of upsetting authorities.

Privately, however, most say that a force is necessary on the ground to make conditions safe enough for them to help people like Marie.

Rebel authorities do not want a force because they fear it could hinder the sweeping advances they have made against Zairean government troops in the past month.

The Zairean government wants one but has wavered in giving formal agreement. Meanwhile, aid workers say, tens of thousands of refugees — many of them starving or wounded — are scattered across eastern Zaire, waiting for airdrops they may not even know about or cannot reach even if they do.

(c) Reuters Limited 1996

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Never work with children or animals

Zairean rebels advance on broad front.

By David Fox

BUKAVU, Zaire, Dec 2 (Reuter) – Zairean rebels said on Monday they had captured towns at the northern and southern ends of a front 400 km (250 miles) long and had penetrated parts of the regional capital Kisangani.

Missionaries confirmed earlier that the rebels routed the Zairean army at the northern town of Beni on Saturday and were advancing towards the larger town of Bunia.

The Zairean troops, reportedly looting and raping as they went, fled through eastern Zaire in apparent disarray.

They have failed to make a coherent counter-offensive since the rebels defeated them around the eastern border towns of Goma and Bukova in October. The campaign has displaced hundreds of thousands, many of them refugees from neighbouring Rwanda.

Laurent Kabila, leader of the rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces for Liberation of Congo-Zaire, told reporters on Monday another conquest by his forces was Kamituga, a gold and diamond mining centre 90 km (55 miles) southwest of Bukavu.

“On the northern front we are still advancing. Beni has fallen. Today is the second day of our control of Beni,” he said. “In the south we have now got Kamituga town, we have been there for two days now,” Kabila added.

He said some 700 Zairean soldiers aided by Rwanda’s former Hutu army had fled Beni. “Villagers in Beni complained to our forces of extensive rapings, beatings and killings by the fleeing soldiers,” he added.

One of his lieutenants, Commander John Kabunga, told Reuters in Goma that the rebels had entered Kisangani, the largest city in eastern Zaire, and were in control of parts of it.

That advance, if confirmed, would be a serious blow to the Zairean government and to the morale of its forces. Kisangani, 500 km (300 miles) northwest of Goma, is the site of a major air base essential to any counter-attack.

“Parts of our forces are now in control of parts of Kisangani. We went there by bypassing the town of Walikale, which is still giving us problems,” Kabunga said.

Kabunga said rebel forces had also tried to enter the town of Bunia beyond Beni, which is in rebel hands, but had encountered resistance in the heavily fortified town.

“There are a lot of Zairean soldiers in Bunia. At the moment things are hard for us there,” he added.

Kabila said the expatriate staff at the mining centre at Kamituga, where South Africa’s Anglo-American corporation has substantial interests, had fled westwards.

In far off Kinshasa, the government confirmed the fall of Beni but said this was the work of the Ugandan army, which says it has been attacking Ugandan rebels on the border nearby.

The government accused Uganda of using tanks and armoured vehicles to capture both Beni and the border town of Kasindi.

“The occupation by Ugandan troops of the towns of Beni, coupled with declarations by Uganda’s government spokesman, who says the Ugandan soldiers will remain in Zaire until the Zairean government stops aiding Uganda Moslem rebels…constitutes a pretext to justify unprovoked aggression against Zaire,” Interior Minister Kamanda wa Kamanda said in a statement.

Shortly before Beni fell, businessmen in radio contact with missionary organisations in the Kenyan capital Nairobi reported Ugandan soldiers were taking part in the fighting.

“It was not clear at first if the town had fallen to the rebels or the Ugandans,” said one radio operator. He added there had been a total radio silence since its fall.

The Ugandan government denies it is helping the Zairean rebels, despite its close ties with the government of Rwanda, which is actively supporting the ADFL.

Diplomats in Kinshasa fear that the direct involvement of Ugandan troops considerably increases the difficulties in deploying an international force in the region and of finding a solution to the spreading conflict in eastern Zaire.

After the weekend’s events, Kamanda sent a statement to the Security Council, saying Uganda’s involvement in the conflict disqualified the country as a base for U.N. troops.

Lieutenant-General Maurice Baril, the Canadian commander of the proposed multinational force to help feed Rwandan refugees and Zaireans displaced by the fighting in eastern Zaire, has set up a forward headquarters at Entebbe in Uganda.

(c) Reuters Limited 1996

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The Ruwenzori, famed "Mountains of the Moon".

Thousands flee fighting in southwestern Uganda.

By David Fox

BWERA, Uganda, Dec 6 (Reuter) – Thousands of people fled villages and hamlets in Uganda’s Ruwenzori mountains on Friday as Ugandan troops fought rebels pushed out of bases in eastern Zaire.

Ugandan soldiers said the rebels were looting, raping women and torching fields in the Ruwenzori mountains, the famed “Mountains of the Moon” straddling southwestern Uganda’s border with Zaire.

“They crossed over in numbers but we have got them on the run,” said a Ugandan soldier at Bwera, a small border town.

A steady stream of people emerged from the countryside loaded with mattresses and bundles of belongings and took to the road from Bwera to Kasese, a provincial centre 50 km (30 miles) away.

“There has been a lot of fighting in the hills,” said a woman. “Last night, again this morning. It is not safe.”

Soldiers in Bwera told Reuters about 800 rebels of the Moslem Allied Democratic Force had crossed into Uganda from eastern Zaire on Tuesday and attacked the border town.

Dozens of homes were gutted and bullet cases littered the street. Ugandan troops on Friday were in force in the town and manned a checkpoint guarded by a tank and patrolled the road linking Uganda to Zaire.

The soldiers said Zairean Banyamulenge rebels flushed the Ugandan rebels out of Zaire in their offensive since October.

They said the Ugandan rebels had been crossing into Uganda for about five years to mount attacks and loot villages.

Soldiers in Bwera said Zairean government forces still held the Zairean town of Kasindi, 10 km (six miles) west of the border with Uganda but they expected it to fall soon to Zairean rebels. They refused to allow journalists to cross the border.

But Ugandan troops were clearly in control of Kasindi on Thursday despite the Ugandan army saying all its troops had returned home following a brief incursion three km (two miles) into Zaire last week.

A Ugandan commander in Kasindi told Reuters his troops would leave on Saturday because the Ugandan rebels had been crushed.

Villagers on the road in Uganda on Friday said the rebels apparently had no clear strategy. “They are just running, but they shoot anyone they see,” said a woman. “All night there was shooting.”

Many of the displaced said they were heading for friends or relatives in Kasese for shelter until the fighting ended. Troops said they had killed dozens of rebels and captured about 30.

Zaire accuses Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda of sending troops to fight alongside the Zairean rebels who have seized a front 550 km (340 miles) long running north-south parallel to Zaire’s eastern border.

The Ugandan government recognises Kinshasa has lost control of much of eastern Zaire to the rebels and has blamed Sudanese Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi for anti-Ugandan rebel attacks.

(c) Reuters Limited 1996

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Uganda troops leave border town to Zaire rebels.

By David Fox

KASINDI, Zaire, Dec 9 (Reuter) – Zaireans rebels have taken control of the border town of Kasindi following the withdrawal of Ugandan troops from the area, officials said on Monday.

“We arrived on Sunday and there was nobody here but the Ugandans,” said one Banyamulenge rebel officer at Kasindi, the small border town that serves as an artery to Beni, some 75 km (45 miles) to the northwest.

Ugandan officers at Bwera, across the border, said they had seized control of the town two weeks ago following sniping and shelling from Ugandan rebels based there.

“The Zaireans had fled and there were just the (Ugandan) rebels left,” said Captain Peter Magara. “They started hitting us so we had no choice but to attack.”

Magara said the rebels, who had been based there for five years staging sporadic attacks, had fled deep into the Ruwenzori range that divides western Uganda from eastern Zaire.

“We have pulled everyone out now…the Banyamulenge are in charge over there,” said Magara.

The level of Ugandan support for the Zairean rebels is not clear. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s Hima group has ethnic links with the Tutsi Banyamulenge who form an important part of the rebel alliance.

Ugandan troops have staged deep forays into Zaire in the past two weeks in pursuit of Ugandan Allied Democratic Force (ADF) rebels who Uganda says are backed by Sudan.

The Ugandan rebels lost their power base as Zairean government troops abandoned the area in the face of increasing attacks by Zairean rebels, who have captured a large strip of the east.

The Zairean rebels, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL), hold the towns of Uvira, Kamanyola, Bukavu, Goma, Butembo and Beni, controlling the significant border points linking Zaire to its eastern neighbours Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

Dozens of trucks loaded with goods for Beni usually cross at Kasindi every day, but on Monday only two vehicles crossed. Ugandan troops said no cars had passed for over two weeks.

“The road to Beni is secured,” said one of the Banyamulenge rebels. “The area is clear and it is now safe to drive through.”

Captain Magara said a first group of Banyamulenge rebels arrived at Kasindi on Sunday, introduced themselves and offered to take over.

“We could tell they were in charge so we left,” he said. “From now on it is a matter for them.”

(c) Reuters Limited 1996

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Fox from Zim, live from the Tanzania-Rwanda border

Tanzania drives 200,000 refugees toward Rwanda.

By David Fox

RUSOMO, Tanzania, Dec 15 (Reuter) – The Tanzanian army on Sunday drove an estimated 200,000 refugees from the largest refugee camp in Tanzania and herded them along the road to the nearby Rusomo border crossing into Rwanda.

The Rwandan Hutu refugees told reporters soldiers entered Benaco camp around noon (0900 GMT) and forced them out using sticks and batons.

“I didn’t want to go but the soldiers said we must — so what else could we do?” Jean-Marie Nundanutsa said.

Earlier, thousands of refugees who had bedded down in the open overnight, some cooking frugal meals over wood fires, resumed their trek towards Rusomo at dawn. They crossed in a steady stream, estimated by witnesses at 1,000 an hour.

In hot sun, the refugees drove cattle, pushed cars and wheeled bicycles loaded with their possessions along the 17-km (10-mile) road from Benaco camp to Rusomo.

From Rusomo, an unbroken mass of refugees stretched back as far as the eye could see.

Officials at the remote border post west of Lake Victoria said about 9,000 refugees had crossed over during Saturday night.

The border post, normally closed at night, remained open to allow the flow of refugees, the second major mass repatriation into Rwanda in five weeks, to continue.

The exodus followed talks between camp leaders in Benaco and officials of the Tanzanian government, which says it wants all 540,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees in Tanzania out by December 31.

Aid workers said most of the refugees arriving at the border on Sunday morning had come from camps south of Benaco.

They had been shepherded past the Benaco camp by Tanzanian security forces, who told them to keep moving towards the border.

“Many people are walking in the right direction,” said Anne Willem Bijleveld of the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.

Bijleveld said soldiers walked with refugees but “in a humane manner” and even assisted the needy.

Before the first column reached the border on Saturday, witnesses said hundreds of thousands were streaming towards Rusomo from as far away as Nyakahura, about 100 km (65 miles) to the southeast.

On the Rwandan side of the border, aid agencies set up water points, health posts and biscuit distribution sites along a 100-km (65-mile) route from the frontier, and Rwandan president Pasteur Bizimungu visited the area to welcome the returning refugees, witnesses said.

About 200,000 of the refugees originally came from villages within 30 km (18 miles) of the Rusomo crossing and were expected to walk back to their former homes.

U.N. aid officials said they believed a rush away from the border by hundreds of thousands of refugees on Thursday broke the grip of the Hutu intimidators who had ordered the refugees not to try to return to Rwanda.

Troops and police turned back refugees who had earlier headed inland into Tanzania from their camps, telling them instead to walk towards the Rwanda border.

It was unclear whether any action was being taken by Tanzanian security forces to restrain the Hutu militiamen and former Rwandan troops, who fear to return because of involvement in the genocide of up to a million people in Rwanda in 1994.

In addition to more than 500,000 Rwandan refugees, there were 112,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania.

The latest migration was the second mass return of Rwandan refugees. More than 500,000 left Zaire in four days from November 15 after a rebellion by Zairean Tutsis broke the Hutu intimidators’ hold.

The United Nations has ordered 350 Canadian servicemen and women, the basis of a multinational force destined for eastern Zaire, to pull out and return home from their bases in Uganda and Rwanda. The force, formed in mid-November, was rejected by the Zairean rebels who now control a large slice of eastern Zaire. It was unable to help Rwandan refugees in Zaire and also failed to win the support of other nations.

African leaders including South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela are due to meet in Nairobi on Monday to discuss efforts to control conflict in Zaire and the Great Lakes region of Central Africa.

(c) Reuters Limited 1996

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Babies born on roadside amidst exodus from Tanzania.

By David Fox

RUSUMO, Rwanda, Dec 17 (Reuter) – Weakened Hutu women gave birth on the roadside and amputees struggled to get water as a column of refugees returning to Rwanda from Tanzania stretched for more than 50 km (30 miles) on Tuesday, aid workers said.

To ensure the mass exodus maintained its momentum, Tanzanian authorities rounded up suspected Hutu hardliners accused of trying to stop many of the 542,000 Rwandan refugees in Tanzania from going back to their homeland.

“A total of 57,000 have crossed today, making about 200,000 altogether,” said Anne Willem Bijleveld of the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) at Rusumo border crossing on the Kagera river.

“There are about 100,000 to 150,000 on the way,” he said.

Inside Tanzania the river of refugees stretched for some 30 km (20 miles), he said. On the Rwandan side of the border, a thick line of plodding refugees stretched for 25 km (15 miles) to Rwanteru town, where they boarded hundreds of trucks and buses on their way home.

Refugees as far as the eye can see .................(Picture by Martha Rial)

Fifty babies had been born on the road in the last 36 hours, according to Jacques Godon of the International Federation of the Red Cross.

He said the refugees were growing weaker as some had been walking for days.

In lines snaking towards Rwanda, mothers tied themselves to their children with yellow string supplied by the Red Cross after hundreds of children were lost in the crush at the border.

Reporters saw Rwandan security men in civilian clothes prevent refugees, including amputees on crutches, from using water points on the route to keep them moving up a steep winding road from Rusumo. Aid workers confirmed that Rwandan authorities were blocking access to some water points they had set up.

Inside Tanzania, 70 suspected Hutu intimidators has been seized by Rwandan authorities by Monday and were being taken to a special camp, aid workers said.

Former Hutu Interahamwe militiamen and troops have refused to go back to Rwanda, saying they will be attacked or jailed for their part in the genocide of minority Tutsis in 1994.

The officials expected arrested intimidators to be handed to Rwandan authorities by Tanzania, which hosts a U.N. tribunal charged with bringing the leaders of the genocide to justice.

“On Monday trucks of young men were being driven north under police escort,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Judith Melby in Ngara.

The mass repatriation of refugees began on Saturday. UNHCR said a total of some 30,000 crossed in the first two days.

The exodus from Tanzania follows the return of an estimated 600,000 Hutu refugees from eastern Zaire, where a Tutsi-led rebellion forced them all to abandon their camps last month.

The refugees left Rwanda in 1994 when troops, militiamen and mobs slaughtered some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Rwandan Tutsi rebels then drove them out of the country and formed the present government.

The bulk of Rwandan Hutu refugees in Tanzania fled away from the border last week after the Tanzanian government set a December 31 deadline for them to go home. But many were turned around by Tanzanian troops and police at times wielding sticks.

Melby said some 280,000 Rwandan refugees were accounted for including 100,000 holding out in the bush about 90 km (55 miles) southeast of the town of Ngara, the centre for aid operations.

“The situation there is pretty desperate. In Kitali (camp) a whole group of refugees is staying there and the sanitary situation is not very good — that’s our worry,” Melby said.

A Tanzanian army lieutenant-colonel said Hutus hiding in the bush might encounter lions.

Benaco camp, the largest Rwandan camp in Tanzania, was empty by Monday. In one hut, a child’s homework lay unfinished on a wooden desk and a pot of bean stew was upended in a fireplace.

(c) Reuters Limited 1996

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Rwanda’s Hutus face off over their former homes.

By David Fox

KAYONZA, Rwanda, Dec 18 (Reuter) – Pasteur Nratuga returned to Rwanda from a two-and-a-half years in exile in Tanzania on Wednesday to find his small banana grove intact, his vegetable garden neatly tended and his house even fitted with a new roof.

The problem is however that his Hutu neighbour is now living in Nratuga’s house and does not particularly want to move out.

“This is my house and before me it was my father’s house,” Nratuga told Reuters after he returned on Wednesday to a small hamlet near Kayonza, 60 km (36 miles) west of the capital Kigali.

“It is my house now,” said Louis Yenmumba, Nratuga’s former neighbour and now the new occupant. “When I moved in it was destroyed. I have rebuilt it and it is my house now.”

The dilemma of Yenmumba and Nratuga — both Hutus and also related by marriage — is the same for millions of Rwandans following the return more than 800,000 refugees from Zaire and Tanzania in the past five weeks.

Almost one in six Rwandans is a recently returned refugee.

Most lived simple subsistance lives until April 1994 when, urged on by leaders and Interahamwe militiamen, thousands joined in a slaughter of over one million Tutsis and Hutu moderates.

More than two million Hutus fled Rwanda in fear of reprisals for the genocide in 1994 as the Tutsi-led rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front defeated the Hutu army and put an end to the slaughter.

Tutsis now dominate the Rwandan army and hold key government positions but Hutus still dominate the 6.8 million population.

The government has ordered any Tutsis who moved into homes abandoned by fleeing Hutus to surrender them within 15 days of the former occupants’ return. But most rural homes abandoned by fleeing Hutus were taken over by other Hutus who want to stay.

“It isn’t as clear cut as you might think,” said an engineer for a German aid organisation helping build houses. “It isn’t a case of Hutu in, Tutsi out.”

In some cases there are few problems. Relatives move in with relatives until a new home is built. But, like Yenmumba, thousands are reluctant to give up what they consider theirs.

In the cities the problem is less acute. Many Hutu city dwellers were middle-class and educated and many were implicated in the genocide and therefore are unlikely to return home.

Nratuga like hundreds of thousands of fellow Hutu returnees is at a loss to say how he came to be in his pitiful situation.

The clothes he and his wife wear are the only ones they own.

Their four children wear little more than rags and their possessions are three pots, a mattress, two blankets, a sheet of blue plastic, a water container and 30 kg (66 pounds) of beans.

“We ran away because of the war,” he said. “We were just innocent people, but we were very scared. In the camps we kept by ourselves and dreamed of returning.”

Nratuga says that on hearing Tanzanian authorities planned to force home refugees from Benaco camp, the largest in Tanzania, by December 31 he headed deeper into Tanzania.

“We didn’t want to go back so we went with the others,” he said. Turned back by Tanzanian soldiers, he meekly went home.

Nratuga said he and his family had been on the road for 10 days since leaving Benaco on foot. Yenmumba says he is a fool.

“I am a Hutu, yet I stayed,” said Yenmumba. “I am happy they have come back but they are stupid. They walk there, they walk here…are we sure they didn’t walk for a reason?”

As Nratuga left the hamlet to seek shelter with relatives elsewhere, Yenmumba could scarcely disguise his disdain.

“He won’t come back,” he said. “He knows I am right…next time he comes back I will call the soldiers and tell them he is Interahamwe…maybe he is.”

(c) Reuters Limited 1996

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Hotel Rwanda ... the Milles Collines, Kigali

Kigali’s bright young things ignore refugees.

By David Fox

KIGALI, Dec 22 (Reuter) – As hundreds of thousands of Rwandan Hutus try to rebuild their lives after two and a half years as refugees, Kigali’s young Tutsi elite are more concerned with cars, music and fashion.

“Many people in the city know about the refugees returning but there are some who haven’t even seen one,” said Yahyha Mulivini, a middle-class Rwandan of mixed Hutu-Tutsi parentage.

“The refugees are a problem for the countryside, not the city. Money is what people in Kigali are interested in.”

At the Piano Bar, the trendiest night spot, dozens of young, well-educated Tutsis dressed in designer jeans dance to a band pumping out a mix of reggae, blues and rap music.

They cheer wildly as an extravagantly dreadlocked singer improvises to a Bob Marley hit: “Kagame is our hero … he sent the enemy away … freedom will be ours.”

The town clearly belongs to the sons and daughters of the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) which seized power in 1994.

The Tutsis had been a cowed minority since 1959 when the former colonial power Belgium installed a Hutu government that openly resented the privileges enjoyed by their often wealthier, better-educated countrymen.

Their oppression came to a head in 1994 when the shooting down of a plane carrying Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana unleashed an orgy of violence in which up to one million Tutsis and Hutu moderates were slaughtered.

The RPF, led by current vice-president Paul Kagame, swept to Kigali from their exile in southern Uganda, where they had also significantly helped Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni take power — sparking the exodus of over two million refugees to Zaire and Tanzania.

As the refugees return, mainly to the countryside from where they fled, Rwanda’s Tutsi young are living the high life.

Kigali is full of smart new cars — many right-hand drive vehicles imported from Dubai — and there is nothing the city lacks.

A U.S.-educated optician can run you up a pair of spectacles for $120 in less than an hour. Dozens of shops sell expensive stereos, televisions and cameras; clothes shops are packed with the latest European fashions and chemists do a brisk trade in imported perfumes.

In the car park of the Cadillac disco, young men try to outdo each other by blaring the latest Western hits from their car stereos.

Inside, the men are outnumbered two to one by elegant Tutsi women vying for dance partners.

“Will you be my friend?” asks one, who gives her name only as Maribelle. “I am not a prostitute, I just need some money to buy clothes.”

Maribelle, born and brought up in Uganda, says she works for an airline company and her father is a government official.

“We are all having fun here now,” she says. “Refugees? I’m not interested in them. They are all farmers.”

While Kigali still shows signs of the battles that raged in 1994, the city is being given a slow facelift.

The Umubano Hotel is to begin a $5 million renovation in January, work has started on a digital telephone system and a huge fountain in the city centre is being repaired after lying dormant for over five years.

But one Asian businessman who runs a general store says the good life might not last.

“I don’t know where the money is coming from, because there clearly aren’t enough jobs for all these people,” he said. “People seem to be living off their parents, but how long can that last?”

(c) Reuters Limited 1996

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Zaire tempers optimism under rebels with old fears.

By David Fox

BUKAVU, May 18 (Reuter) – A secretary to a company executive in Zaire’s eastern city of Bukavu explained graphically some months ago what difference the arrival of Laurent Kabila’s rebels made to her life.

“Before, if I was raped once a week, that was a good week,” she told Reuters.

“I used to dress badly on purpose when I walked past army barracks. I used to try make myself look poor so that I would be left alone. Now I don’t have to do that.”

Civilians already living under rebel rule in eastern Zaire for months are overall optimistic and relieved at the departure of the corrupt government army, finally defeated with the fall of the capital Kinshasa this weekend.

In the northeastern city of Kisangani last week Clement Mapangala wore a white hat branded “Association of Money Changers” as he went about business trying to coax foreigners to buy Zaire’s currency at the rate of 75,000 to the dollar.

“I could never do this before,” he said, openly touting wads of notes the size of house bricks. “If the soldiers thought I had even a small amount of money they would take it.”

For hundreds of thousands of people across Zaire, Kabila’s rebellion has brought positive changes few dared dream would happen in their lifetime. But many of their old problems remain.

Those who have already tasted life under new Zaire strongman Kabila say it is far better than under the regime of ousted President Mobutu Sese Seko. But they add it still has a long way to go to meet their needs.

“The important thing that Kabila has given us is hope,” said Pyus Bitulu, a graduate engineer from Kisangani who has worked as a motorcycle taxi driver since leaving university in 1979.

“Next week I am going to Goma to look for work as an engineer,” he said. “I have heard they are hiring people there.”

In Goma, signs of Mobutu’s rule vanished swiftly after the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL) seized the city last November at the start of their revolt.

At the Sacred Heart girls school, a white patch stands out on the yellowing walls inside all the classrooms — Mobutu’s official portraits have long been consigned to the rubbish bin.

A class of 16-year-old girls hisses in unison when asked what they think of their former ruler. They cheer and ululate when asked about Kabila.

But at an official level, signs of the old Zaire remain.

“The alliance has replaced a corrupt, inefficient, cumbersome beauracracy with one that is merely inefficient and cumbersome,” said a businessman who has worked in the region for more than 10 years.

In the past, traders had to bribe scores of officials to prompt them to do what they were supposed to be paid to do.

Today it costs just as much to do business. The bribes have merely been replaced by “taxes” complete with official receipts bearing stamps copied directly from the Walt Disney cartoon “The Lion King”.

In many cases even the officials have remained in place.

In Kisangani last week, taxi drivers became embroiled in a furious row with Airport Authority officials demanding they pay $10 every time they drop off passengers.

“You disappeared when the Alliance came,” shouted an angry driver. “Now you are back — even wearing the same uniforms. Go to hell.” Rebel soldiers intervened and the airport officials beat a retreat.

The fact ordinary Zaireans are prepared to have Kabila’s forces intervene in disputes speaks volumes for the new-found faith they have in the army. But disquiet and suspicion remain.

Last week in Kisangani a taxi driver knocked down and injured a rebel. He was beaten up by other rebels and hustled into their barracks. Neither he nor his car has been seen since.

But local merchants, frequently the best barometer of confidence, are moving back into shops they abandoned years ago because they were being robbed nightly — usually by soldiers.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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The Nepal royal family massacre

Air of uncertainty hangs over Nepal as rumours fly.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 6 (Reuters) – An air of uncertainty hangs over Nepal’s capital like the storm clouds that have gathered ahead of the monsoon season.

Five days after almost the entire royal family was gunned down in a bloody palace massacre, ordinary Nepalis are still none the wiser as to what actually happened.

“This waiting and being told nothing is not good,” said Talir Maship, as he waited in line to sign a condolence book at the Royal Palace. “It breeds gossip and bad theories.”

But the one theory that is increasingly being accepted as truth is the one almost nobody wants to believe – that Crown Prince Dipendra slaughtered his parents, the king and queen, and seven other members of his family before turning the weapon on himself.

And he did it for love.

“In some ways it would be better if that is what happened,” said Kumar Dal, a textile merchant also waiting in line at the palace. “If there was some other kind of conspiracy it would be terrible for the country.”

The story gaining most currency is that Dipendra flew into a rage when cornered at a family gathering over his choice of bride, whom his parents disapproved of.

As a senior officer in the army, he had easy access to a weapon and knew how to use it. When his rage cleared, and surrounded by shocked palace aides who did not know what to do next, Dipendra shot himself.

“That is what I have heard,” said Sahil Thupa waiting in line at the palace with a bunch of white lillies. “My friend heard it from her relative who worked at the palace. It is so.”

The official line remains that an automatic weapon exploded, but few among the thousands of mourners at the palace on Wednesday believed that.

“You know you cannot say bad things about the royal family, so that is why he had to say that,” said Bhirganj Shati, refering to the statement by the new king, Gyanendra, who was Dipendra’s uncle and former king Birendra’s brother.

A massacre such as that which took place on Friday is not unprecedented in Nepal’s history.

Although the Shah dynasty has ruled for centuries, in 1846 Jung Bahadur Rana – an ambitious noble from the west of the country – initiated a coup in which hundreds of the cream of Nepal’s society and including many members of his own family were killed.

He established a parallel “monarchy” of hereditary Prime Ministers who ruled until the 1950s, with the real king nothing more than a figurehead. Their bloodlines have mixed, however, and the current king and his two dead brothers were all married to Ranas.

On Wednesday Kathmandu was all but closed, although a curfew that had been imposed following riots on Monday had been lifted.

Almost every man in the kingdom has had his head shaved, save for a small tuft at the back, as a mark of respect. Groups of people sat huddled at street corners, discussing the crisis or poring over newspapers.

Stray dogs lay panting in the shade of the narrow streets as crows pecked at the remains of roasted corn cobs sold by women dressed in brightly coloured saris.

The condolence books at the palace were in demand with dozens already filled and still hundreds waiting for a chance to write their message of sorrow.

“The sun has stopped shining,” said one entry from the Kupondole family. “We want a proper investigation.”

With the nation at a standstill, even the few tourists around had little else to do but put in an appearance at the palace.

“Best wishes – be together in paradise,” wrote John Driscoll of New York.

King Gyanendra has ordered a panel investigating the massacre to report its findings by Friday, but that has already been bogged down with the main political opposition refusing to be part of the probe.

Their action has angered even loyal supporters.

“They should help the inquiry. We need to know what happened,” said Sher Bhash.

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Nepal faces power vacuum after slaughter of royals.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 7 (Reuters) – Nepal faced a power vacuum on Thursday as the people came to terms with the unbelievable – a beloved crown prince had murdered the king and queen before pulling the trigger on himself.

The bloody massacre of the royal family has left the impoverished Himalayan country in crisis, with the new king yet to win over a traditionally loyal population and a government hardly less secure in its tenure.

The latest in a series of curfews imposed to quell the sort of rioting that erupted on Monday, three days after the palace slaughter, ended at 3 a.m., but authorities said it was purely precautionary.

There was no sign in the capital on Wednesday of the sort of protests that greeted new King Gyranendra’s announcement in the aftermath of the killings that it had been an accident.

Rather, there was a sad acceptance of the truth – or the truth that has been leaking out in more detail over the past few days – that Crown Prince Dipendra was responsible for the carnage.

In the most complete version of the bloody events of last Friday, media accounts and royal insiders said the heir to the throne – angered by his family’s refusal to let him marry the woman of his choice – killed his father King Birendra, his mother Queen Aishwarya and seven others with an automatic weapon.

A friend of the royal family told Reuters that Dipendra was clinically dead when he was brought to hospital after shooting himself through the chin. He was named king anyway, but died on Monday.

The massacre has left a power vacuum in the tiny kingdom where the late King Birendra was hugely popular, particularly after he ceded absolute power in favour of a constitutional monarchy in 1990.

Many had regarded him as an anchor of stability in the poverty-stricken kingdom, torn by political feuding and a bloody Maoist rebellion, and were doubtful about the ability of the new king to command the same respect.

The graphic stories of the massacre came as a source close to a panel announced by the new King Gyranendra to investigate the shooting told Reuters it was expected to start work on Friday.

Announcing the terms of the inquiry, the palace said the two-man investigation, headed by a supreme court justice, would be given three days to report its findings.

But many seem ready to accept that Dipendra could be the villain of the piece.

“In some ways, it would be better if that’s what happened. If there were some other kind of conspiracy, it would be terrible for the country,” bypasser Kuman Dal said.

How soon the government and the new king can move to get the country back to normal remains to be seen.

A combination of curfews and the mourning period announced for the slain royals has brought business to a standstill.

All government departments, all banks and most shops are closed. The few backpackers around complain that they can’t find a travel agent open to book a trekking holiday – a huge source of foreign exchange for the country.

Tax-generating casinos, along with other forms of “entertainment” such as cinemas, discos, popular karaoke bars and even foreign television channels, have been ordered shut. Black market rates for foreign currency are creeping up, and the number of touts per tourist soaring.

“We need to get things back to normal,” said Umar, who runs a booth of pay telephones. “Actually, it doesn’t really matter what happened, we just need to be normal again.”

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Nepalis find their gods have feet of clay.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 8 (Reuters) Nepal woke up on Friday to the realisation that the royalty they revere as gods are probably mortal after all.

Exactly a week after almost the entire royal family was mown down by the crown prince, the nation is finally being told – albeit slowly – what really happened.

Graphic testimony from family members who survived the massacre, in which the king, queen and seven relatives were killed, said Crown Prince Dipendra was the killer.

He turned the gun on himself but was named king anyway by the royal council while he lay in a coma, dying three days later.

“What motivated him to do this, I am not sure,” said Captain Rajiv Shahi, who is married to one of the daughters of late King Birendra’s youngest brother, and a doctor in the army.

“But then it was Crown Prince Dipendra who murdered the King. Anybody who touches the King is no more what he used to be. He is just a murderer.”

Until Shahi’s dramatic news conference on Thursday, the official line remained that the deaths were an accident as a result of an exploding automatic rifle.

And although an official inquiry panel has yet to start work – and said Shahi’s testimony wasn’t valid unless given to them directly – fewer people now doubt their findings will be anything but a foregone conclusion.

Already the local media has started reporting alternative theories to the “accident” line.

Local web site http://www.nepalnews.com[http://www.nepalnews.com/%5D quickly updated its pages with Shahi’s account of the killings, the first time it had named Dipendra in connection with the massacre.

Because of the state of mourning, the only television channels available in the kingdom are BBC and CNN, and both reported widely on Dipendra’s involvement long before Shahi’s news conference.

His account has been corroborated by other survivors.

He told how he had helped carry a drunken Dipendra away from a family gathering because he felt his condition was inappropriate. He said Dipendra returning, wearing battle fatigues, and started his shooting spree.

Shahi told how he held his jacket to the neck of the dying king to try to stem the flow of blood from his fatal wound.

Friends of the family said Dipendra had done it because his parents refused to allow him his choice of bride.

All this is now openly discussed in the markets of old Kathmandu. Before, discussing the foibles of the royal family was strictly taboo.

The new King Gyanendra, confronted by riots after his accession, has yet to win over a traditionally loyal population. The government is equally insecure in its tenure.

The slain king was hugely popular, particularly after ceding absolute power in favour of a constitutional monarchy in 1990.

Many had regarded him as an anchor of stability in the kingdom of 22 million people, which is racked by poverty, political feuding and a bloody Maoist rebellion.

Some doubt whether the new king can command the same respect, and even more are wary of the fact that his son, who is next in line to the throne despite not yet being named crown prince, has a reputation as a playboy.

One analyst said the legitimacy of the monarchy could be hurt beyond repair if the Nepali people refused to believe that Dipendra was to blame for the carnage.

“If they don’t tell the truth, there could be a revolution against the monarchy. It’s a dead end,” political science professor Lok Raj Baral at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan University said. “The truth has to come out.”

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Walk through old Kathmandu is a walk through time.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 7 (Reuters) – A walk through the old quarter of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu is a walk back through time.

Just a few paces into the narrow streets and alleys and you could be in the 14th century, save for a jumble of electricity and telephone cables that snake overhead.

Narrow shopfronts with doorways so small you have to stoop to enter line the potholed pavements and rutted streets. Elaborately carved wooden balconies loom overhead, Buddhist figurines and plaster Hindu gods staring wild-eyed from inlays.

Even the business being conducted dates back centuries. Silversmiths and cobblers rub shoulders with spice merchants and weavers. Carpet sellers beckon listlessly from atop huge piles of their goods while barbers sharpen their cut-throat razors on worn leather strops.

But no matter how small or humble the premises, virtually every one boasts a picture of King Birendra, who along with his wife and seven other relatives was mown down by his son and heir in the royal palace last Friday.

Crown Prince Dipendra tried to kill himself after the massacre, and was briefly named king himself as he lay in a coma until dying on Monday.

His uncle Gyanendra is now king, leaving this nation of 23 million puzzled and angered at the behaviour of a family they normally revere as living gods.

“It is unbelievable what happened,” said a trader selling prayer wheels near the old palace complex. “I believe what I hear, but it is hard to understand.”

The official explanation remains that the royals were killed when an automatic weapon exploded, but few people expect a panel established by the new king to investigate the matter to conclude anything else than it was an act of a love-struck prince at odds with his family over his choice of bride.

Public discussion of the palace intrigue is a new development for this impoverished nation known chiefly for its Gurkhas, Sherpas and pashmina shawls.

Discussing the foibles of the royal family is virtually taboo, but even where time seems to have stood still, in the alleys of the old quarter, things have changed.

Groups of men, their heads shaven as a mark of Hindu mourning, stand huddled over newspapers, trying to read between the lines for some hint of what really happened.

Youths touting rafting or walking trips to backpackers ask “what do you think?” as they half-heartedly try to hustle for business.

On one street, dozens of pairs of false teeth grin maniacally from the window of a dentist. The crude tools of his trade, a brutal-looking pair of forceps and a leather bit to keep jaws apart, lay on the counter.

From down one dark alley, a dull-eyed Nepali hissed furtively for business. He was selling another of Kathmandu’s better known but illicit products, hashish.

He still finds custom among the Western travellers who visit Nepal these days, albeit in not so great numbers as during the “hippy pilgrimages” of the 60s and 70s.

With the climbing season at an end, and the monsoon rains gathering in dark clouds above the foothills above Kathmandu, the pace of life is generally slow at this time of the year.

From the goings-on in the palace and down the old alleys of the old quarter, it has a few hundred years of catching up to do.

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Nepal comes to terms with the unbelievable.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 7 (Reuters) – Witnesses to the bloody slaughter of Nepal’s royal family confirmed on Thursday what many people in the kingdom had feared to believe – their Crown Prince mowed down his family in a drunken rage before shooting himself.

Captain Rajiv Shahi, a member of the royal family by marriage, went public with his account of what happened in the palace without waiting for an official inquiry ordered by newly crowned King Gyanendra to begin its work.

The government and palace line remains “it was an accident”, but Shahi’s news conference at a military hospital clearly had official sanction of some kind.

“What motivated him to do this I am not sure,” said Captain Rajiv Shahi, who is married to one of the daughters of late King Birendra’s youngest brother and a doctor in the army.

“But then it was Crown Prince Dipendra who murdered the King. Anybody who touches the King is no more what he used to be. He is just a murderer.”

Shahi told a packed news conference in the capital Kathmandu, how Dipendra staggered drunkenly and occasionally fell as he shot his family with a variety of assault rifles.

His version of events was confirmed separately by Maheswar Kumar Singh, the late king’s uncle who was also present and who separately told the BBC:

“One hundred percent, I am really sorry to say, it has been done by him. I’ve seen it.

“I remember he fired the first shot. It was at the ceiling, I think, and then immediately after…kkrrr, kkrrr,” he said, mimicking the sound of an automatic rifle.

Shahi said Dipendra admitted earlier he was drunk. “He told me that he was a little intoxicated. At that time, since it was a family gathering, we thought it best to take him to his room. So his younger brother, myself and Prince Paras (his cousin) escorted him, carried him.”

But Dipendra returned, wearing battle fatigues, to begin his bloody slaughter.

Shahi used a whiteboard to draw a diagram of the scene of Friday’s bloodbath, and occasionally had to compose himself as he recalled the details.

He told how he held a jacket to the dying king’s neck to try to stem the flow of blood from a bullet wound. The king’s stomach wound, he decided, needed less attention.

Family friends who had spoken to survivors said they believed Dipendra had been driven to breaking point by his parents’ opposition to his choice of bride.

Ten people, including Dipendra, died on Friday or later from wounds suffered in the massacre. The incident has left the impoverished Himalayan country in crisis.

New King Gyanendra, confronted by riots after his coronation, has yet to win over a traditionally loyal population. The government is equally insecure in its tenure.

Many ordinary Nepalis, who revere their royal family as gods, refused to believe earlier reports blaming Dipendra.

As some voiced lingering doubts, most were waiting for the results of the official inquiry before closing one of the ugliest chapters in the history of the mountain kingdom.

A member of that inquiry told Reuters the panel had yet to begin work, but would get to the truth in around three days.

Commenting on Shahi’s testimony, Tranath Ranabhatt, the speaker of the lower house, said: “We don’t consider what individuals say outside (the investigation).

“Ours will be an authoritative and detailed report.”

The man appointed to head the inquiry, Chief Justice Keshav Prasad Upadhyaya, said it could take longer than expected.

“I think it will be difficult to complete the investigation in three days,” he told Reuters. “If we don’t finish in time we may have to request for a short extension.”

As the clouds which herald the start of the monsoon season gathered in the hills around the Kathmandu valley, the capital was calm.

A website, http://www.nepalnews.com[http://www.nepalnews.com/%5D, was carrying details of Shahi’s news conference by late Thursday, almost the first Nepali media to refer to the massacre by anything other than the official line.

It seems certain official media will have to follow suit despite the arrest of the editor and two publishers of the country’s leading newspaper on Wednesday after they published an article by a Maoist leader.

Less certain is what the reaction of the people will be.

The slain king was hugely popular, particularly after ceding absolute power in favour of a constitutional monarchy in 1990. Many had regarded him as an anchor of stability in the kingdom of 22 million people, which is racked by poverty, political feuding and a bloody Maoist rebellion.

Some doubt the new king could command the same respect, and even more are wary of the fact that his son, who is next in line to the throne despite not yet being named crown prince, has a reputation of a ne’er-do-well and playboy.

But Paras, who escaped uninjured from the massacre, comes off well in Shahi’s account.

“Had it not been because of Prince Paras, probably there would not have been so many survivors that day,” Shahi said without elaborating.

One analyst said the legitimacy of the monarchy could be hurt beyond repair if the Nepali people refused to believe that Dipendra was to blame for the carnage.

“If they don’t tell the truth there could be a revolution against the monarchy. It’s a dead end,” political science professor Lok Raj Baral at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan University told Reuters. “The truth has to come out.”

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Nepalis shocked by truth behind palace massacre.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 8 (Reuters) – Nepalis reacted with stunned disbelief on Friday to the first public acknowledgment that the royal family it worshipped as gods, had the foibles of mortals.

As residents of the capital pored over copies of newspapers carrying graphic accounts of last week’s slaughter, few could bear to think of the consequences for the monarchy or the country.

“What to do?” said Alesh Parshop, shaking his head as he read a witness account of how a drunken Crown Prince Dipendra slaughtered the king and queen and seven other members of his family before turning the gun on himself.

The local press, which previously had restricted itself to government accounts of the tragedy being an accident, on Friday could no longer ignore what people were openly discussing anyway.

The witness, a royal by marriage who had cradled the king in his arms as he lay dying, put the blame squarely on Dipendra at a dramatic news conference on Thursday.

“But then it was Crown Prince Dipendra who murdered the King. Anybody who touches the King is no more what he used to be. He is just a murderer,” said Captain Rajiv Shahi, an army doctor married to the daughter of the former king’s younger brother.

In cold print, the truth seemed hard to take.

“This has been a terrible tragedy,” said Farina, accompanying her daughter on a shopping trip. “If the royal family if such a thing can happen, what can we think of them?”

Her’s was a familiar response in the warren of alleys and narrow streets that make up Kathmandu’s historic old quarter.

There was a sense of agitation in the air.

The king of Nepal is venerated as a living incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, and Dipendra briefly inherited that mantle when he was named king as he lay in a coma, dying from a self-inflicted gun shot.

Few thought Dipendra, Eton educated and regarded as fun-loving but popular should retroactively be stripped of the crown.

“What is done is done, said Kalim Suraj, as he prepared to enter a little temple nestled behind the old palace.

What to make, though, of reports that Prince Paras the new king’s son with a patchy and controversial reputation – had helped save the lives of some of his relatives.

The Kathmandu Post, commenting on Shahi’s testimony, said Paras’s role had been “positive, if not heroic”. Paras, although not named crown prince, is next in line to the throne.

Paras .. playboy-turned-hero

New king Gyanendra still needs to win the love of a population stunned by the tragedy. The government’s tenure seems hardly less secure.

But despite greeting his coronation on Monday with rude silence followed by violent rioting, more now seem prepared to give him a chance.

“The new king is the king and we must support him,” said Suraj. “If we blame him for Paras, then we must blame King Birendra for Dipendra.”

Some, however, still believed another hand was behind the tragedy and prefered to wait for an official inquiry to complete its work.

“That is the authentic one, that committee is the authentic one to talk about the incidents and findings of that incident,” said a mourner at a shrine to the slain royals.

The commission is due to report on Monday, but few now expect it to be anything but a foregone conclusion.

“I believe what I have read,” said one man as he waited in line to sign the condolence book at the Royal Palace.

Mourning for slain royals ends as Nepalis await answers.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 10 (Reuters) – Nepal ends its official state mourning for the slain royal family on Sunday as it waits for answers from a commission charged with investigating the massacre.

Few people expect the panel to conclude anything other than that the king and queen and seven of their relatives were gunned down in a drunken rage by Crown Prince Dipendra.

But the wait for a verdict is fuelling speculation and uncertainty in the Himalayan mountain kingdom, where discussing the revered royal family in anything other than hallowed terms is considered taboo.

Officially the June 1 massacre remains an accident caused by an exploding automatic weapon, but witnesses have already gone public to describe how they saw Dipendra mow down his cowering family before shooting himself.

The commission has now interviewed one of the key witnesses army doctor Captain Rajiv Shahi, who was present with his wife, the daughter of the slain king’s brother.

Shahi told a news conference last week how he helped carry a drunken Dipendra to his quarters, only for the Eton-educated heir to the throne to return in combat fatigues and begin the killing spree.

He told also how he held a dying King Birendra in his arms, trying to stem the flow of blood from a fatal neck wound.

Although given just three days to complete its inquiry, the commission has already said it will likely need a few more and hopes to report on Tuesday.

Its task has been made more difficult by the huge divide that exists between the royal family and ordinary Nepalis, few of whom have ever had a glimpse into life behind the palace gates.

The Shah dynasty has ruled the impoverished country for centuries, but even after the advent of multi-party democracy in 1990 – when the king became a constitutional monarch – the palace has remained off limits to commoners.

On Sunday, crowds began gathering early to sign condolence books at the palace and lay flowers at a makeshift shrine opposite its imposing steel gates in central Kathmandu.

Many still cannot believe that their king, believed by loyal subjects to be a living reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, could have been murdered by his son.

“I still don’t believe what I have heard, so I will wait of the official result,” said one woman, clutching a bunch of yellow flowers to her chest.

But others had already accepted the realisation that the family they revered as gods was mortal after all.

“It seems like it was Dipendra,” said one man as others in the crowd nodded in agreement. “Maybe there were others, but Dipendra was the one.”

How new King Gyanendra handles the crisis and the findings of the commission will be closely watched by a population which greeted his accession last Monday with rude silence followed by violent rioting.

Many had regarded Birendra as an anchor of stability in the kingdom of 22 million people, which is racked by political feuding and a bloody Maoist rebellion.

Some doubt the new king can command the same respect, and even more are wary of the fact that his son – who is next in line to the throne despite not yet being named crown prince – had a bad reputation compared to his peer and friend, Dipendra.

All this is fuelling conspiracy talk, especially outside the capital where the feuding government’s hold on power is even more tenuous.

Maoist rebels gain influence in impoverished Nepal.

By David Fox

CHAUTARA, Nepal, June 10 (Reuters) – The dusty settlement of Chautara is as far away from an international border as it is possible to get in Nepal, but it still has the air of a frontier town.

Just 65 km (40 miles) west of the capital Kathmandu, Chautara is on a frontier of sorts – the frontier between the government and Maoist rebels who have waged a bloody insurgency for years.

The Maoists are believed to hold sway over almost 50 percent of the impoverished country, gradually gaining influence among a population that has seen little improvement to their lives since multi-party democracy was established in 1990.

More than 1,550 people have been killed in Maoist-related violence across Nepal since the insurgency began in early 1996. In less than a week in April, they killed 69 police officers in a series of attacks on security posts.

Although in most areas the rebels use standard guerrilla tactics against government targets, in others they rule openly, collecting taxes and running local facilities such as schools and health clinics.

A government population census due to start on Sunday will work in only around 40 of 75 districts in Nepal because the Maoists have refused to allow data collectors in areas they control.

So well entrenched are the rebels, they even intend holding their own count in their strongholds, the Kathmandu Post reported on Sunday.

“There are Maoists here, all around, but they don’t give us any problems,” said one man as he sipped tea in a shop on Chautara’s only street.

To reach the town from the capital, you make a bone-jarring three-hour drive along a high ridge overlooking the Kathmandu valley, the Himalayas rising majestically on the horizon.

A series of police and army checkpoints punctuate the journey. Passengers’ names are taken and bags searched for weapons or other signs of Maoist sympathies.

But in the town itself, there is little sign of official rule. The district office stands at the far end of town, opposite a bunkered army post where tough-looking soldiers keep watch from behind heavy machineguns.

The district officer, who won’t give his name, says only that the area is “calm and secure”.

But the Maoists are the last thing on anyone’s mind following the massacre of almost the entire royal family on June 1 allegedly by a drunken Crown Prince Dipendra.

News of the murder and a royal commission appointed to investigate it has reached even the most remote village of this Himalayan mountain kingdom and so too have the conspiracy theories that now abound.

“I think there is a conspiracy here. No one kills their mother and father over a simple matter like this,” said Ram Vinod Chadka as he worked an ancient mechanical printing press in the centre of town.

He was referring to reports that Dipendra’s rage had been sparked by his parents’ opposition to his choice of bride, while others speculate over more sinister palace intrigue.

“People here are just guessing,” said a passerby. “Some are saying it was the army and others are saying this and that. We are really just guessing now.”

How much capital the Maoists can make of the uncertainty gripping the country remains to be seen, but already their influence has been felt.

The editor and two publishers of a leading independent newspaper have been under arrest since Wednesday after publishing an article by a senior Maoist leader who alleged a conspiracy behind the palace murders.

The Maoists, previously anti-monarchist, are touting the conspiracy theory in an effort to further discredit a government that has teetered for months on the edge of crisis.

“This event plays into their hands, allowing them to capitalise through misinformation to create tension and mistrust and destabilise the situation,” said Shridhar Khatri, a political science lecturer at Kathmandu’s Tri University.

“If they come to the mainstream and contest elections, they would be a major force, but if they continue their gruesome acts they won’t be able to win over the people.”

Hindu holy man rides into exile to lay Birendra ghost.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 11 (Reuters) – A wizened old Hindu holy man broke a sacred taboo on Monday, consuming a meal laced with animal marrow, to lay the ghost of Nepal’s murdered King Birendra and take on the woes of the troubled royal family.

The priest, a lifelong vegetarian and member of the highest Brahmin caste, had volunteered his services for the “Katto” ceremony in order to banish the ghost of Birendra from Kathmandu, where the Shah dynasty has occupied the Monkey Throne for centuries.

As he rode across the Bagmati river on elephant back, he stared sombrely ahead. He will never be allowed to return to the Kathmandu Valley and must spend the rest of his life in exile.

Devout Nepalis hope the troubles that have gripped this Himalayan mountain kingdom since the June 1 palace massacre will begin to ease now that one of their religion’s most sacred traditions has been observed.

Birendra, his wife and seven other members of the royal family were gunned down by Crown Prince Dipendra that day, apparently in a drunken rage fuelled by his parents’ opposition to his choice of bride.

Because he was named king as he lay dying in a coma, a similar ceremony will be performed for Dipendra on Wednesday.

Traditionally, the priest is supposed to eat marrow from a bone collected during the cremation of the dead monarch, but one Hindu scholar said he believed animal marrow had now been substituted.

“It is the symbolism of the act rather than the actual act that constitutes the acceptance of the undesirable,” said Raj Simil Ghopal. “But the consumption of animal parts is heinous in itself, hence the banishment.”

Monday’s ceremony began under a scorching sun where the priest, dressed only in a plain white dhoti (sarong), busied himself with ritual washing and prayers beneath an army canopy erected on the banks of the Bagmati river, the boundary of old Kathmandu.

Throughout the morning, well-wishers arrived bearing gifts, clasping their hands together and murmuring “namaste” (blessings) as they went on their way.

They included Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, whose handling of the massacre has seriously diminished his ruling party’s chances of retaining its shaky grip on government in elections for 20 national assembly seats on June 27.

A royal commission made up of two of his closest allies is due to report on the massacre on Thursday, but few expect the verdict to conclude anything other than naming Dipendra the murderer despite a swirl of conspiracy theories.

The new King Gyanendra, Birendra’s brother, was not present, but by tradition he was not supposed to be anyway.

As the priest dressed in elaborate royal garments and donned a replica of the plumed Nepali crown to assume a likeness of Birendra, his aides took stock of the gifts presented to mark his sacrifice.

Although it may be a lonely exile, it won’t be without comfort.

New televisions sets, radios, blankets and pillows were displayed, some still in their wrappings.

Walking sticks and umbrellas were piled in one corner, while a new briefcase sat atop a desk that would have been more in place in a high-tech office than in a ceremony that dates back centuries.

A shiny brass primus stove, an electric fan and a collection of gaudy plastic combs had also been donated, as had baskets of food – some already attracting the attention of the swarms of flies that thrive on the banks of the stinking river.

Nearby, the elephant Moti Prasad munched contentedly on reeds growing from the riverbank.

The elephant had got the ceremony off to an inauspicious start during its 130-km (80-mile) trek from the Royal Chitwan National Park to the capital.

The Kathmandu Post reported on Monday that Kali Bista, a mother of three daughters, had been picked up and crushed by the elephant on Saturday as she tried to walk under its belly – a superstition that is supposed to encourage the birth of a son.

But Monday’s ceremony ended more auspiciously.

The priest, shielded from the sun by a bright red parasol carried by three mahouts, mounted the elephant which remained on best behaviour despite the jostling around its legs of photographers and cameramen trying for a unique shot.

It lumbered down to the river and, with the barest of encouragement from the mahouts, waded in, water swirling up its flanks as it crossed the 50 metres (yards) to the other side.

Devout Hindus who could get close enough gave it a hearty smack as it went on its way, hoping to help rid the capital of the tragedy that has unfolded.

“It is a good sign,” said Ghopal. “If the elephant refuses to go, it could mean bad omens.”

Nepal massacre report due as suspect’s ghost banished.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 14 (Reuters) – A commission investigating the massacre of almost the entire Nepal royal family was due to complete its report on Thursday as the nation prepared to banish the ghost of the prince believed responsible for the slaughter.

The report is widely expected to conclude that Crown Prince Dipendra gunned down his father, King Birendra, and eight other members of the royal family in a drunken rage on June 1 – apparently because his parents disapproved of his choice of bride.

It was not clear, however, when the report would be made public. Government sources have told Reuters that it will be presented to new King Gyanendra to study and its findings released on Monday.

As an anxious population waited for news of the report, traditionalists prepared an ancient Hindu farewell for Dipendra that they hope will banish the ill fortune that has struck the palace.

Although Dipendra was believed to have been responsible for the murders, as Crown Prince he was named king as he lay dying in a coma from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.

As a monarch who died tragically, traditional Hindus believe he must now have a “katto” ceremony performed on his behalf.

The ceremony involves a Brahman priest deliberately defiling himself to assume Dipendra’s woes. The priest, a vegetarian all his life, will eat a meal laced with animal marrow, dress as Dipendra and leave the Kathmandu Valley on elephant back.

He will be banished for the rest of his life, supported in exile by gifts and money donated by wellwishers anxious to rid the capital of the bad luck that has plunged the nation of 22 million people into crisis.

A similar ceremony held on Monday for Birendra was attended by senior government officials including beleaguered Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and the two-man investigating commission.

With Dipendra’s apparent guilt now being openly discussed as well as reported in local newspapers, it is unclear if they will attend Thursday’s ceremony.

In its most critical commentary to date, the Kathmandu Post said on Thursday that it was time for people to stop believing in conspiracy theories and accept the inevitable.

“It is an exhausting exercise trying to understand the workings of a sane brain that snaps and turns a person into a merciless killer,” it said.

“So the simplest thing to do has been to take the easier way out believe in the more ‘plausible’ conspiracy theories. Never mind that these theories have larger holes in them they are easier to digest.”

The impoverished Himalayan mountain kingdom, racked by a Maoist rebellion that has cost over 1,600 lives since 1995, has been in the grip of a political crisis since last year with parliament failing to sit because of a boycott by opposition legislators who make up nearly half the 200 seats.

Development programmes have been stalled, funding for rural projects delayed and revenue collection vital to help the country escape from a foreign debt that makes up 50 percent of GDP are almost non-existent.

Koirala, also under pressure from a dissident faction within his own ruling Nepal Congress party, needs to ensure the rioting that greeted King Gyanendra’s accession is not repeated following the report’s release.

“Even before the tragic shootout took place, the angry and frustrated youths of Nepal were squirming impatiently to lay hands on a cause to vent their pent-up emotions – against the government, against anyone,” the Post said.

“They’ve found one now,” it added.

Panic as elephant turns tail on Nepali royal rite.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 14 (Reuters) – The ghost of Nepal’s Crown Prince Dipendra appeared reluctant to leave home on Thursday.

Despite the urgings of a Hindu crowd anxious to rid the capital of bad luck, the elephant chosen to convey Dipendra’s spirit into exile at first refused to cross the Bagmati river for a ceremonial cleansing that dates back centuries.

Alarmed by the vigorous slaps and shouts of the faithful, it trumpeted wildly before turning tail and chasing a group of dignitaries up a narrow path.

They scattered in panic, leaving a trail of slippers and Nepali caps in their wake.

It was yet another bad omen for a palace that has been rocked to its foundations by the murder of almost the entire royal family on June 1.

The “Katto” rite – reserved for monarchs who have met tragic ends – was being performed for Dipendra despite widespread belief that he was responsible for the slaughter.

A commission later on Thursday confirmed what everyone in this country of 22 million people had been talking about – Dipendra mowed down his family, including his parents the King and Queen, in a hail of automatic gunfire before turning a pistol on himself.

He lay in a coma for three days, during which he was named his father Birendra’s successor despite his apparent guilt. But died three days later without regaining consciousness.

As at an earlier Katto ceremony for his father, a Hindu priest broke one of the ancient religion’s most sacred taboos in order to assume Dipendra’s woes.

The elderly priest – a vegetarian all his life – ate a meal laced with animal fat before going into exile in a remote part of the Himalayan mountain kingdom.

To ease his banishment, he was presented with an assortment of gifts – a television set, electric fan, sofa, bed, desk and clothing.

The priest then donned court attire, a replica of the Nepali plumed crown and a pair of Dipendra’s own shoes – several sizes too big – before mounting the elephant.

After its initial reluctance to cross, the elephant was finally encouraged to lumber through the polluted Bagmati followed by a fusillade of stones and rotten fruit thrown by a now vengeful crowd.

It was an ignominious end for a prince who many Nepalis believed would have made an ideal heir to the throne.

But in the aftermath of the slaughter, even traditionally loyal monarchists were beginning to revise their opinion of the royal family – and Dipendra in particular.

Groomed for the throne from birth, Dipendra – who would have been 30 next Thursday – attended Britain’s exclusive Eton school where he is remembered as being popular, but occasionally moody.

He was reprimanded for buying alcohol for fellow pupils and also once brandished a revolver he had hidden in his room.

His penchant for guns was confirmed on Thursday by the commission, which said Dipendra frequently took out weapons from the royal armoury and liked to carry a pistol.

Although it is taboo to discuss the royal family in terms other than reverential, Nepalis are now starting to recall some of his more erratic behaviour – some of which the commission confirmed.

He was said to be something of a womaniser and family members say the shooting spree was sparked by his parents’ opposition to his choice of bride.

The commission said Dipendra’s last conversation on his mobile phone, shortly before he went on the rampage, was a drunken one to Devyani Rana, with whom he had a relationship.

Divyeni ... I'll call you later!

Rumours of a drug habit spread. The commission said Dipendra had smoked hashish shortly before the killing spree and that his aides regularly prepared hashish cigarettes for their crown prince.

At the Royal Nepal Golf Club, where he was patron, members recall he had an enthusiastic disregard for the rules, but a love for hitting the ball long distances.

Yet compared to his cousin Paras, who survived the massacre and is now heir apparent to a throne now occupied by his father, Dipendra’s uncle Gyanendra, Dipendra was seen as a saint.

“The heroic image of Paras protecting his sisters and the image of the crown prince wielding a gun at them is something that the Nepali populace is not going to accept,” a commentary in the Kathmandu Post said on Thursday.

“It is too difficult to think, to imagine, the circumstances that might have led to the wild rampage. It is an exhausting exercise to try to understand the workings of a sane brain that snaps and turns a person to a merciless killer.”

Official probe blames prince for Nepal massacre.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 14 (Reuters) – Nepal’s Crown Prince Dipendra gunned down almost his entire family, including his parents the King and Queen, in a drink-and drug-fueled rage, an official investigation concluded on Thursday.

The royal commission said witness after witness had testified that a drunken Dipendra was responsible for the June 1 palace massacre and had fatally shot himself afterwards.

“His Royal Highness the Crown Prince…fired rat-tat-tat at His Majesty the King,” Taranath Ranabhatt, parliamentary speaker and a commission member, told a news conference broadcast live to a nation still reeling from the events of two weeks ago.

He said Dipendra had drunk alcohol and smoked hashish before killing his parents and seven other members of the royal family.

The findings confirmed what the 22 million people of the world’s only Hindu kingdom had feared – despite an initial line from palace officials that the killings had been an accident.

But whether Nepal’s people accept the commission’s findings that it was a lone, crazed act remains to be seen – there is much talk of conspiracy on the streets of Kathmandu.

Riots broke out after the new king, Gyanendra, the late King Birendra’s brother, was crowned last week.

Many monarchists refused to believe that Dipendra, the well-liked, 29-year-old Eton-educated heir to the throne, could have gunned down his family in a drunken rage prompted apparently by his parents’ disapproval of his choice of bride.

But the commission’s report, available on the Internet at http://www.ntc.net.np[http://www.ntc.net.np/%5D, found that he had smoked a joint of hashish before the shootings and that his orderly regularly rolled hashish-laced cigarettes for him.

The inquiry also said the last call made on Dipendra’s mobile phone, minutes before he went on the rampage, was to Devyani Rana, the woman with whom he had a close relationship.

Speaker Ranabhatt said Devyani had given testimony to Nepali embassy officials in India after fleeing Kathmandu in the aftermath of the slaughter but had refused to comment on the nature of her relationship with Dipendra.

The crown prince’s last words to her were: “I’m now going to sleep, goodnight. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

But in fact he dressed in combat fatigues and, with five weapons including a commando M-16 assault rifle – used by some of the world’s most elite troops – fired over 75 rounds in the killing spree.

He wore black gloves.

He gurgled when aides found him after he had shot himself.

Before Dipendra’s guilt was officially confirmed, traditionalists on Thursday bade him farewell in an ancient Hindu ceremony they hoped would banish the palace’s ill fortune.

As crown prince, Dipendra had been proclaimed king as he lay dying in a coma from the self-inflicted gunshot wound.

And as a monarch who died tragically, traditional Hindus believe he too needed a “katto” ceremony performed on his behalf – as for his murdered father on Monday.

A vegetarian Brahman priest deliberately defiled himself to assume Dipendra’s woes by eating a meal laced with animal fat. He then dressed as Dipendra and crossed the Bagmati River on an elephant.

At first, the elephant appeared reluctant to go. As Nepali dignitaries slapped the creature to send the bad luck on its way, the elephant turned tail and chased them up a narrow path.

Once brought under control, it lumbered across the river – this time to a fusillade of stones and rotting fruit thrown by the now vengeful onlookers.

The priest will be banished for the rest of his life, supported in exile by gifts and money donated by well-wishers.

The impoverished Himalayan nation, poised strategically between nuclear powers China and India, has been racked by a Maoist rebellion that has cost over 1,600 lives since 1995 and is in the grip of a political crisis because of a parliamentary boycott by opposition deputies.

Even before the shootout, angry youths sought a cause to vent pent-up emotions – “against the government, against anyone,” the Kathmandu Post newspaper said.

“They’ve found one now.”

Nepal king praised for handling of massacre probe.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 15 (Reuters) – Nepal’s new King Gyanendra won praise on Friday from analysts who think his handling of a report on the massacre that brought him to the throne may have gained him the people’s loyalty.

As night fell, the Nepali capital remained calm as residents digested the official news that a drunk Crown Prince Dipendra was responsible for slaying almost his entire family before killing himself.

Gyanendra’s coronation following the June 1 massacre was greeted with violent rioting by a population unhappy with the initial explanation that it was an accident, and suspicious of a conspiracy to kill a beloved king.

But the truth, contained in an inquiry’s report broadcast live to the nation on Thursday, ended nearly two weeks of rumour and uncertainty over the affair.

It pointed the finger firmly at Dipendra, saying he had carried out the massacre in a drug and drink-fuelled rage.

Gyanendra’s insistence on the report being released just minutes after he had first seen it has won him praise in a society more used to the palace being the residence of gods than something answerable to the people.

“The new king naming the (investigating) panel, the selecting of its members and decision to make the report public immediately were extremely praiseworthy,” said Sridhar Khatri, a political science lecturer at Tribhuvan University.

Rabindra Khanal, also a political science lecturer, said the population would accept the report because it was official and came from the king.

His views were echoed by the man in the street.

“Well if that’s what they say then it must be true,” said Ranji Balup as he prepared to open his store. “I just hope things can return to normal now.”

Gyanendra has already ensured political support.

Virtually every party gave him a vote of confidence after he pledged to uphold the constitutional monarchy that his brother, slain King Birendra, first introduced in 1990.

“The future of the monarchy is essentially going to rest on the responses the new king shows to the public and his respect for the constitution,” analyst Khanal said.

“If we are to go by decisions (made so far) it is extremely encouraging.”

But the population may never view the monarchy in quite the same light now they have had a unique insight to life at the palace.

The report told how Dipendra had a penchant for guns and frequently had aides sign out weapons from the royal arsenal.

It detailed how his adjutant and orderly were both aware of his drug habit and regularly rolled hashish cigarettes for him.

And it revealed the last call he made on his mobile telephone, just before he went on the rampage, was to Divyani Rana, the woman his parents apparently disapproved of as a potential future queen.

His last slurred words to her were: “I’m now going to sleep, goodnight. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

He then donned battle fatigues and black gloves and began firing over 75 rounds from weapons including a commando M-16 automatic rifle, used by some of the world’s most elite troops.

He killed nine people – including his parents, the king and queen, and then turned a pistol on himself, the report said.

“This is what they say, but how do we know it is true,” said Kumar Rai, a vegetable vendor. He, like thousands of other residents of the capital, still believe there was a conspiracy.

A court ordered the release of the editor and two publishing executives held on sedition charges since last week when their newspaper carried an article by a Maoist leader alleging such a conspiracy.

The publishing executives were told they would be called to court at a future date – as was the editor, who also had to pay a bond of 2,000 rupees ($27).

The impoverished Himalayan nation, poised strategically between nuclear powers China and India, has been racked by a Maoist rebellion that has cost over 1,600 lives since 1996 and is in the grip of a political crisis because of a parliamentary boycott by opposition deputies.

Even before the palace tragedy, opposition parties had mobilised angry youths into staging a series of strikes that have further crippled an economy struggling to stay afloat.

The new king may give them a new cause.

“We need kingship in Nepal for our own survival,” said lecturer Khanal, “(But) the king should be taken as an institution and not as a person.”

Last rites for Nepal royals as rebel attacks resume.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 16 (Reuters) – Nepal held a last traditional Hindu ceremony for its slain king and queen on Saturday as a full return to normal in the country was signalled by a resumption of attacks by Maoist rebels.

Interior ministry officials said over 200 rebels attacked a police post at Nagar, Western Nepal, forcing 36 policemen to surrender.

The rebels captured a substantial array of weapons in Friday’s attack, which lasted for nearly three hours and injured four policemen, officials said.

It was the first significant incident by Maoist rebels since the bloody palace massacre of June 1 when Crown Prince Dipendra killed his parents and seven other royal family members in a drink and drug-fuelled rage.

Dipendra shot himself after the massacre, but lay in a coma for three days before dying.

The Maoists, avowed anti-monarchists, assumed a curious pro-royal stance in the aftermath of the massacre. Although they did not announce a ceasefire, statements from their leaders urged the population to unite against what it called a conspiracy behind the palace killings.

The Maoist rebellion – which has cost over 1,600 lives since 1996 – is just one of the problems facing new King Gyanendra as he tries to win the loyalty of a nation shocked by the palace tragedy.

On Saturday he had spiritual matters to attend to, overseeing a private Hindu ceremony at the palace for his brother, slain King Birendra, and the other murdered royals.

The ceremony is traditionally held 13 days after the death of a king.

No security incidents were reported overnight in the capital, Kathmandu, following the publication of a report which pointedly blamed Dipendra for the massacre.

Thousands of people rioted after Gyanendra’s coronation last week, angered at official explanations that the massacre was an accident and suspicious of a conspiracy to kill a beloved king.

Newspapers on Friday said the findings of the royal commission left many questions unanswered, chiefly a motive for the attack.

Friends say Dipendra was upset at his parents’ opposition to his choice of bride, and the last call he made on his mobile phone before the slaughter began was to Divyani Rana, the daughter of a leading local politician with whom he had “a relationship”.

“It says who, but does not say why,” the Kathmandu Post said.

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The Philippines

Defiant Arroyo vows to crush Philippine rebellion.

By David Fox

MANILA, May 1 (Reuters) – Defiant Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo vowed on Tuesday to crush what she called a carefully planned rebellion, saying anyone plotting to overthrow the government would be “beaten to a pulp”.

Arroyo, facing the biggest crisis of her presidency since being sworn in exactly 100 days ago, said an attempt by tens of thousands of supporters of former ruler Joseph Estrada to storm the presidential palace overnight was part of planned rebellion.

“We have the evidence, we have the proof…this was a carefully planned rebellion,” Arroyo told national television after spending the night in the Malacanang Presidential palace which was besieged by over 40,000 people.

Three people were killed – two police officers and a protester – as the mob repeatedly charged the palace gates.

Only small groups of Estrada supporters were still on the streets by Tuesday night, but witnesses said around 6,000 Arroyo backers gathered in a counter protest as the May Day holiday drew to a close.

Arroyo on Tuesday declared a “state of rebellion” – two stages down from martial law – which means authorities can arrest without a warrant anyone suspected of planning to overthrow the government.

She also barred assemblies of more than five people around Malacanang.

Speaking from behind her desk in the presidential office, Arroyo – wearing a flowered suit and pearl earrings – said she was in complete control of the country and had the full backing of the military, the church and the masses.

“NEVER WORRIED”

“I was never worried,” she said. “They attempted (rebellion), I crushed them.”

Asked why she looked concerned as she thanked troops on Tuesday for seeing off the palace attack, Arroyo grinned broadly and said: “No, I wasn’t worried. Its just that I hadn’t put on my make-up!”

Arroyo, once a class mate and still a good friend of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, is renowned as a punchy politician despite her diminutive four foot 11 inch frame.

On Tuesday she pulled no punches when she described how she would deal with those she charges with plotting the rebellion – specifically Estrada’s former police chief Panfilo Lacson, who has gone into hiding.

“He will be beaten to a pulp,” she said, if he tried to challenge legitimate authorities.

Chief state prosecutor Jovencito Zuno said the government planned to arrest Lacson as well as Estrada allies Juan Ponce Enrile, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Gregorio Honasan – all senators seeking re-election on May 14.

Customs Commissioner Andrea Domingo told reporters an order had been issued preventing at least nine opposition figures from leaving the country – including the four identified by Zuno.

Earlier this week, Philippine newspapers speculated that opposition politicians and some military officers were planning a coup to install a civilian-military junta.

Arroyo insisted on Tuesday that the threat had been real and had unsettled the country.

“There is a state of rebellion. You can’t call it business as usual. What I have to do is crush the rebellion.”

Arroyo assumed power after a broad alignment of army, church and business backed the removal of Estrada for what they saw as serious mismanagement of the economy and government.

Estrada is being held at a maximum security detention centre at Laguna City, 50 km (30 miles) south of Manila. He faces charges of corruption and economic plunder and a possible death sentence if convicted.

All change means no change for Philippines’ poor.

By David Fox

MANILA, May 3 (Reuters) – For tens of thousands of ordinary Filipinos, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“No government has done anything to actually improve my life,” Rita Hornandes said as she doled out beef stew and rice from her hawker stall on Manila’s Roxas Boulevard on Thursday.

“I am doing what my mother did…my daughter will end up doing what I do,” she said. “How can anything change?”

Hornandes, 40, was speaking three days after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo crushed an attempt by tens of thousands of supporters of detained former leader Joseph Estrada to storm the nearby Malacanang presidential palace complex.

Although the attempt failed, it was the latest manifestation of the “people power” type of politics that have dominated the Philippines since a big popular uprising overthrew dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

Hornandes said she took part in the marches that led to the ousting of Marcos, swept along by the party spirit of the crowd and buoyed by the prospect of change promised by his successor, Corazon Aquino.

“I had a typical life,” she said. “I was one of eight children, I did not get much schooling and I got pregnant when I was deceived by love.”

Her last statement is greeted by knowing laughter from nearby stallholders – almost all women with the same story to tell.

“Those were very exciting times. We really thought our lives would get better,” said Esmerelda Cruz. “But unless your are born rich, you cannot get better.”

Many of the stall holders said they had joined the crowd calling for Estrada’s reinstatement this week, saying he had been unfairly singled out for punishment.

“Marcos made millions, he had no trial,” said Bing Polos, seated on the running board of his jeepney, the ubiquitous gaudy buses which most working class Filipinos rely on for transport.

“Then Cory (Aquino) made millions. What about her? And what about Ramos?” he said, referring to Fidel Ramos, who preceded Estrada.

“The problem is that Erap (Estrada) is a hero, he is fighting for the poor and the rich don’t like it.”

Like many of Estrada’s mainly impoverished supporters, Polos appeared to confuse Estrada the politician with Estrada the movie actor, famous for roles in which he played the good guy fighting against crime and corruption.

Many seem unable to believe his ousting, arrest and subsequent detention are not just part of the script of the latest blockbuster – particularly as so much of the drama has been played out on television in the full glare of the media.

“I cried when I saw him being escorted to jail. I saw it on TV,” said Nita, speaking in a squatter camp in Pio del Pilar.

“He is not an animal he deserves better treatment. To us, Erap is still president,” said Ruth Lozada, 39.

And many fully expect him to break out of prison and get even with his enemies.

“It isn’t over yet,” said Manny Lopez, a self-taught mechanic. “Wait and see what happens.”

But Estrada’s fate looks bleak. Along with his son Jinggoy, he faces multiple charges of graft and economic plunder – the latter can be punished by death.

The government swiftly cracked down on this week’s attempt to storm the presidential palace, declaring a state of rebellion and ordering the arrest of opposition politicians it says were instigators.

It has also banned gatherings of more than five people around Malacanang – a move the opposition says is flagrantly undemocratic coming less than two weeks before congressional elections.

But some analysts believe the real losers remain the country’s impoverished millions who feel they have lost a champion because of a politically elite clique.

Randolph David, sociology professor at the University of the Philippines, said Arroyo had assumed power because she had played a delicate balancing act between the military, church, and civil society, but she had ignored the masses.

“She has yielded ground and concessions to all these groups but not yet to the poor,” he said. “Not that she doesn’t like to but that she has no money. The budget deficit is a problem – it’s as simple as that.”

And he warned that Estrada’s politically important backers should be wary of letting the genie out of the bottle should they encourage more popular protests.

“Don’t these people realise they are not of that crowd? They belong to enclaves of the elite,” David said.

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Some African analysis

Ethiopian advances leave Eritrea vulnerable.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, May 24 (Reuters) – A succession of military defeats has left Eritrea with virtually no alternative but to withdraw from the little Ethiopian territory it still holds and try to negotiate a face-saving way out of the conflict, analysts say.

Ethiopian troops have carved out a huge swathe of Eritrean territory in the past 12 days, forcing their enemy into a series of humiliating retreats and causing more than 100,000 people to flee into neighbouring Sudan.

Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki says his country can and will fight back, but analysts believe the Red Sea state simply does not have the capacity to sustain a long, conventional war.

“For 30 years the Eritreans fought a guerrilla war against Ethiopia and, in effect, they won that,” said a Nairobi-based Western diplomat.

“But this is different. This is two sovereign states with two national armies slugging it out – and it looks like Ethiopia has won it.”

On paper, it is hardly surprising.

The International Institute of Strategic Studies estimates that Ethiopia has an army of nearly 300,000 troops lined up against Eritrea’s 180,000.

While both countries have spent heavily on military hardware since the border war first erupted two years ago, Ethiopia has a vastly superior air force, more heavy artillery and simply more people to call up from among its 60 million population.

Eritrea, however, does have some cards up its sleeve.

While its four million people are dwarfed by the Ethiopian population comprising dozens of tribes and ethnic groups, most Eritreans are ideologically united against Addis Ababa after their 30-year guerrilla war.

In that time the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) lived a spartan existence, expert at living off the land and equipping themselves from scraps left over from their battles with the Ethiopian military.

Their struggle only ended when they joined forces with a coalition of forces led by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front to overthrow the Marxist military regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

They enjoyed good relations until two years ago when a border row erupted into warfare. Eritrean troops initially routed the Ethiopians and although Ethiopia regained some territory last year and again in the past 12 days it says Eritrean troops still occupy some of its land.

Eritreans say they will have no hesitation in going “back to the bush” to fight Ethiopia, and they may also have time and the weather on their side.

The first six months of the year have proved critical in all conflicts in the Horn of Africa and this one is no different.

The war started in this period two years ago, flared anew at the same time last year and erupted again 12 days ago.

Ethiopia’s recent successes have come because at this time of the year its forces have been able to cross the Mereb river – which divides the two countries along much of their border – at virtually any point.

But rains are expected in the next few weeks and if the river floods as normal, crossing points will be limited and the Ethiopians will either have to withdraw or face the prospect of fighting with only limited support from the rear.

This happened to a succession of Ethiopian armies sent to crush the EPLF: they would make gains when supply lines were open and be beaten back during the wet season.

“The last thing the Ethiopians want is to find themselves in two months time in the same position they are now,” a diplomat said. “They could find themselves stuck”.

Ethiopia is clearly seeking a quick, decisive military victory, not necessarily in Asmara itself, which will force Eritrea to effectively surrender and accept Addis Ababa’s terms at the negotiating table.

But if Eritrea can hold out, Ethiopia might find itself in another quagmire, its army running out of food and supplies and hit from all sides by an enemy who returns to his old EPLF hit-and-run tactics.

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ANALYSIS-Still no light ahead for the dark continent.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, May 16 (Reuters) – Hundreds of years ago cartographers marked maps of Africa as the dark continent, with a warning for would-be explorers: “Here be dragons”.

Centuries later, with hopes of an African renaissance cruelly dashed, the continent remains a brutal, dangerous place that is frequently the scene of conflict and despair and rarely one of peace or hope.

“Three, four years ago it was very promising,” former Botswana President Ketumile Masire said on Tuesday during a visit to Kenya.

“Almost all countries in Africa were democratising. The economic indicators were rising. There were positive signals, positive indicators that we were going to get out of the quagmire in which we have been stuck.”

But Masire admitted the continent had since regressed.

“It’s very regrettable that when other nations are making so much progress we should be engaged in reducing the chances of our progressing.”

From floods in Mozambique to famine in the Horn of Africa, from civil war in Sierra Leone to full-scale conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, from a deadly AIDS epidemic to crippling debt, Africa just can’t seem to break out of a vicious cycle of destructiveness – both natural and man-made.

“The problem is that many people in Africa – particularly the leadership – blame the rest of the world for their woes,” a senior European Union diplomat told Reuters.

“Until they get out of that mind-set, until they start accepting responsibility for their own problems and finding their own solutions, I don’t see the situation changing.”

Katherine Mando, an analyst with a think tank that campaigns for civic action in East Africa, blames the continent’s leaders, says the only hope for Africa will come from ordinary people.

“The leadership has no credibility and until virtually all of them are thrown out of office there is little hope,” she told Reuters.

“With a very few notable exceptions such as Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela, Africa’s leaders seek power for one reason alone – to enrich themselves and their families.”

African nations – particularly from the Sub-Saharan region – occupy the bottom places on virtually any table measuring human or economic development.

The continent’s countries are among the poorest in the world, contain the unhealthiest people with the shortest life spans, boast the most conflicts, the least educated people, the worst communications, the most environmental destruction…

The list is endless.

According to statistics from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) nearly half the continent’s people live below the poverty line and the economy of sub-Saharan African grew by less than three percent last year.

The only way poverty levels can be brought down, the OAU says, is for economic growth to reach double digits – an almost impossible dream.

But why is this?

“Other parts of the world also have the same problems as Africa, but none seem to have them all at the same time,” the EU diplomat said.

“And there is a much greater level of accountability in other parts of the world. People in Africa simply put up with too much for too long.”

Last year U.S. President Bill Clinton toured the continent to hail what he said was an “African Renaissance” and congratulate what Washington called “a new breed” of African leader in the guise of Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi.

But the renaissance appears to have faded like some 15th century canvas while even the new leaders have lost their lustre – Museveni and Kagame squabbling as their troops fight each other in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Meles ignoring pleas from the United Nations and relaunching war with Eritrea.

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ANALYSIS-Dark days for Kenya as begging bowl goes round.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, June 8 (Reuters) – The latest jokes doing the rounds of the Kenyan capital would be funny if they weren’t quite so true, but they are as dark as the power cuts that prompted them.

“What did Kenya have before candles? Electricity!”

“What does KPLC (Kenya Power and Lighting Company) stand for? Kenya Please Light a Candle!”

These are dark days indeed for Kenya – and not just because of sweeping nationwide power cuts that leave many users with just eight hours of electricity a day.

The country is going through its worst economic and social malaise since independence in 1963 and scarcely anyone – Kenyan or foreigner – can see a way out of the crisis.

“You are looking at a comprehensively bleak picture,” said Robert Shaw, a director of the Institute for Economic Affairs, a local think-tank.

“All our economic and social prospects appear to be plummeting daily. Without doubt we are getting into fairly serious negative growth and just about everything is being impacted.”

The extent of the country’s woes were revealed fully on Wednesday when President Daniel arap Moi called a rare news conference to issue an emergency appeal for international aid totalling $148 million to combat drought-related famine.

Moi, never shy of boasting of guiding Kenya to prosperity and unity since taking power in 1978, appeared embarrassed at having to hand out the begging bowl so publicly.

Nevertheless, he combatively dismissed suggestions that he or his administration was remotely responsible.

“The appeal for support is wholly due to natural calamities which have befallen our beloved country,” he said. “I am not a rainmaker. No Kenyans are responsible for the weather.”

Analysts, diplomats and opposition leaders think otherwise.

“The weather factor has only worsened an already rickety situation which has largely been of our own making,” said Shaw.

“I think there will be some sympathy and some support for Moi’s appeal,” said a Western diplomat who asked not to be named. “But really, the suggestion that the government is blameless is ridiculous. Show some contrition, please!”

The sum Moi has appealed for is not unlike that which the International Monetary Fund has been withholding from Kenya since 1997 because of concerns over poor governance and graft.

Since then, foreign investment has all but dried up, the stock market is touching six-year lows, interest rates have soared and the shilling is worth as little as it ever has been.

With per capita income of under $300 per year and GDP growth at less than two percent, nearly half the 30 million population lives below the poverty line.

One in every seven sexually active adults – those aged between 15 and 55 – either has AIDS or is infected with HIV, rising to one in three in urban areas. They will almost all certainly die within the next 10 years.

But as the the world’s second largest exporter of tea, a major grower of top grade coffee, substantial horticultural exports and pristine beaches and game parks that attract hundreds of thousands of tourists each year, Kenya should be much better off than it is.

It is difficult to see how things can be improved – in the short and medium term at least.

Although the IMF is talking about a possible resumption of lending in July, confidence will be slow to return to the struggling economy and foreign investors are unlikely to come flooding back.

The power cuts – caused by water shortages which have slashed the hydroelectric capacity of the country – have prompted already struggling industries to slash output and in many cases lay off workers.

At least the graffito that surfaced after tribal clashes caused tourist arrivals to plunge in 1998 no longer has any relevance.

“Would the last tourist to leave Moi International Airport please switch off the lights?” it read.

These days, there aren’t any lights to switch off.

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ANALYSIS – Hardship for rich and poor alike in Kenya.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, August 14 (Reuters) – When Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963, the colonial rulers left a rich legacy of organisation and infrastructure that in Africa was bettered only in Rhodesia and South Africa.

Uniformed postmen cycled daily through the leafy suburbs of the capital to deliver mail. Garbage was collected by municipal trucks once a week, the telephone system worked, the electricity supply was good and clean tap water was abundantly available.

Less than 40 years later, the country is in a shambles.

Just last month the Nairobi council admitted that it had just one working fire engine to serve the sprawling capital city of over three million people.

There is no municipal garbage collection, no postal deliveries, no working parking meters and virtually no functioning traffic lights.

Electricity is provided to residential areas for around four hours a day – often in the middle of the night – and water once a week. One western embassy organises twice-daily bus runs for its staff to use toilets at city hotels because it has not had water for more than two months.

The majority of buildings in the city centre get no water during the day or electricity at night. After dark, central Nairobi is a no-go zone on foot for all but the most destitute or desperate.

Even in the leafy upper-class suburbs of Muthaiga and Karen you can forget the call of the wild filling the African night. The only thing to be heard these days is the cacophony of thousands of petrol-driven generators.

Kenya’s middle and upper classes – both local and expatriate – now live behind high fences with private “askari” guards patrolling the grounds day and night.

Mass unemployment has led to a significant rise in crime, and scarcely a day goes by without one of the local newspapers reporting some heinous robbery, assault or murder.

Even if you get your telephone to work and call a police station to report a crime – a burglary in progress at your own home perhaps – you will probably be asked to go and collect the officers yourself as they don’t have vehicles.

One western embassy takes the children of diplomatic staff to school in an armoured car after one of its vehicles was hijacked by gun-toting thieves.

All this in a city that is the global headquarters for two United Nations organisations – Habitat, which deals with urban planning, and UNEP, which handles environmental protection.

Kenya is going through the worst economic and social crisis in its history and analysts say even the resumption of lending by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund two weeks ago is unlikely to change things soon.

The country had been virtually without any international aid since July 1997, when the World Bank and IMF suspended aid because of concerns over corruption and poor governance.

Yet to listen to the speeches of President Daniel arap Moi or any member of his government, you would be forgiven for thinking you are living in paradise.

“Kenyans should take pride in their progress and development,” is the phrase used most often by Moi, who has ruled since taking over from post-independence leader Jomo Kenyatta in 1978.

To be fair, there has been some progress.

More Kenyans have better access to education than during colonial times. Health facilities for the masses have improved tenfold, the average lifespan has increased by more than two decades and fledgling tea and coffee production has developed into a world-class industry.

Kenyans are also responsible for their own destiny, rather than relying on London for patronising colonial rule.

But even those gains are being undermined by an administration that refuses to blame itself in any way for the country’s problems.

The country’s HIV/AIDS infection rates are among the highest in the world and while education is available to all, employers much prefer to hire graduates from foreign universities rather than local ones.

Health facilities in rural areas have slipped to the point where patients are often crammed three to a bed and even the most basic drugs are stolen by doctors to be sold in their private clinics.

Despite the shambles, members of the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) are already angling for re-election for the next polls due in 2002.

Although the constitution is supposed to stop Moi from running again, the law is under review by parliament and few people would be surprised if it wasn’t changed to allow the 75-year-old the chance to stand.

During an appeal last month for the international community to donate over $100 million to combat a drought, Moi was asked if his government was in any way responsible for Kenya’s woes.

He appeared genuinely shocked at the question. Blame God and the weather, was his reply.

Tourists can still have a wonderful holiday in Kenya – lazing on sun-kissed beaches on the coast or watching wildlife in the dozens of game parks around the country.

But residents of Kenya are finding it increasingly difficult to afford this escape from the day-to-day struggle of finding water, electricity and transport.

“Certainly Nairobi is no longer considered an attractive place to work,” a U.N. official told Reuters. “We are finding it increasingly difficult to attract staff to Kenya. People simply don’t want to live here.”

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AIDS infections fall in Africa, for tragic reasons

By David Fox

NAIROBI, Nov 28 (Reuters) – The rate of new HIV infections is finally falling in Africa – but only because the epidemic has already struck so many people, a new report by the United Nations said on Tuesday.

“The epidemic in many (African) countries has gone on for so long that it has already affected many people in the sexually active population, leaving a smaller pool of people still able to acquire the infection,” the U.N.’s AIDS body (UNAIDS) said.

The report – released ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1 – says 3.8 million Africans were infected with HIV this year compared to four million in 1999, the first decline since the epidemic first struck.

Sub-Saharan Africa now accounts for 25.3 million of the 36.1 million people living with HIV or AIDS globally – a figure which amounts to nearly one in every ten African adults.

“One continent is touched by AIDS more than any other,” the report says. “Africa is home to 70 percent of the adults and 80 percent of the children living with HIV, and has buried three-quarters of the more than 20 million people worldwide who have died of AIDS since the epidemic began.”

Some 2.4 million people died of AIDS-related diseases in Africa this year – more than those killed by war, famine and flood combined.

Botswana remains the country worst hit by the epidemic with 35.8 percent of the country’s adults infected.

But South Africa has the highest absolute number of infected people in the world, with 4.2 million of its 39.9 million people infected – nearly 20 percent of the population.

The reasons given for the stranglehold of the virus in Africa are numerous and often controversial.

Africa has less access to basic health care and sanitation than other continents. As a result many people are not treated for the sexually transmitted diseases that help spread HIV.

Discussing sex is still taboo in many African societies and governments have been loathe to upset their constituencies by promoting condom campaigns or HIV/AIDS testing.

But most controversial is the belief held by many scientists but considered politically incorrect in U.N. corridors – that Africans have more sex than the people of any other continent.

“It is not a popular theory,” one senior U.N. AIDS official told Reuters. “You certainly won’t find it in any U.N. material, but the scientific community is rapidly accepting the reality that there is more sex in Africa. There is no other affordable leisure activity.”

The statistics produced by the United Nations are mind-boggling when it comes to Africa.

– Life expectancy in Zimbabwe has shrunk from 65 to 43 years – less than it was at the beginning of the 20th century.

– One in every four South African women between the ages of 20 and 29 are HIV positive.

– HIV patients occupy nearly 40 percent of all hospital beds in Kenya and 70 percent in Burundi.

– Over 10 million Ethiopians will die of AIDS within the next decade.

There are some good signs for Africa, however.

The report says that in countries which have embraced anti-AIDS campaigns, rates of infection do eventually slow.

Uganda, where as a result of civil war in the early 1990s AIDS spread more rapidly than elsewhere on the continent, has seen the adult HIV prevalence rate drop to 8.3 percent from nearly 14 percent at its peak.

But while Uganda remains the U.N’s model for fighting AIDS in Africa, few other nations have followed its example.

The U.N. says at least $3 billion a year is needed to promote AIDS programmes in Africa that would make a difference.

“This seems like a small price to pay to help a whole continent avoid a future dominated by the social disruption that defines the AIDS era,” it says.

However, help may not immediately be at hand.

“It is estimated, for example, that the United States alone spends around $52 billion coping with the medical consequences of obesity – more than 15 times what would be needed to change the face of AIDS in Africa.”

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Scientists find fossils of man’s earliest ancestor.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, Dec 4 (Reuters) – French and Kenyan scientists have unearthed fossilised remains of mankind’s earliest known ancestor that predate previous discoveries by more than 1.5 million years, the team announced on Monday.

They said the discovery of “Millennium Man”, as the creature has been nicknamed, could change the way scientists think about evolution and the origin of species.

The first remains were discovered in the Tugen hills of Kenya’s Baringo district on October 25 by a team from College de France in Paris and the Community Museums of Kenya.

Since then the scientists have unearthed distinct body parts belonging to at least five individuals, both male and female.

“Not only is this find older than any else previously known, it is also in a more advanced stage of evolution,” palaeontologist Martin Pickford told a news conference.

“It is at least six million years old, which means it is older than the (previously oldest) remains found at Aramis in Ethiopia, which were 4.5 million years old.”

“Lucy”, the skeleton of Australopithicus afarensis found in Ethiopia in 1974, is believed to have lived around 3.2 million years ago.

An almost perfectly fossilised left femur shows the much older Millennium Man already had strong back legs which enabled it to walk upright – giving it hominid characteristics which relate it directly to man.

A thick right humerus bone from the upper arm suggests it also had tree-climbing skills, but probably not enough to “hang” from tree branches or swing limb to limb.

The length of the bones show the creature was about the size of a modern chimpanzee, according to Brigitte Senut, a team member from the Museum of Natural History in Paris.

But it is the teeth and jaw structure which most clearly link Millennium Man to the modern human.

It has small canines and full molars – similar dentition to modern man and suggesting a diet of mainly fruit and

Although no dating has been done on the remains just unearthed, strata from where the fossils were recovered have been previously proven twice by independent teams – from Britain and the U.S. – to show an age of six million years.

The Baringo area is part of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, which has long been rich in archaeological and palaeontological discoveries and the source of almost all fossils related to man’s earliest ancestors.

The area is rich in calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate that replace the organic material in bones to form fossils in an environment sealed by lava or volcanic ash.

Pickford and Senut said they were confident the team would unearth even more remains that could help form a near-perfect picture of Millennium Man.

“We are just going to publish our initial findings, to get the excitement, and continue with our work,” Pickford said. “I am sure there is still a lot more out there – possibly even older.”

Fossil parts of other species found at the same site hint at a rich variety of fauna and flora.

“We have found fossils of trees, fossils of rhino, hippo, antelope … many things,” said Senut. “They would not be what you recognise today, but earlier ancestors of them.”

Chew marks on one femur of Millennium Man suggest our earliest ancestor may have met an unfortunate end, but one that is still played out across parts of Africa every day.

“It looks like he was killed and eaten by some sort of carnivore, probably a cat,” said Pickford.

“It was probably dragged up a tree to the cat’s usual eating place and then bits fell into the water below.”

The latest fossils were found in the village of Rondinin in the Tugen hills, around 150 miles (235 kms) northeast of the capital Nairobi.

The area is home to Kenya’s long-serving President Daniel arap Moi – a coincidence unlikely to pass unnoticed by the nation’s sharp-pencilled cartoonists.

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