Kinshasa - Thousands of villagers are fleeing their homes in violence-wracked eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, pushing the number of villagers displaced since hostilities flared up nearly one year ago to 300 000.
Skirmishes between army troops and fighters loyal to warlord Laurent Nkunda had eased in recent weeks, but the region remained tense and many fear clashes would start anew.
Masako Yanekawa, who heads the office for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Goma, said people were now fleeing Nkunda's fighters, accusing them of forcibly recruiting children and adults.
"The number of people forced to flee violence this year in the DRC's North Kivu province has passed the 300 000 mark, the highest level in more than three years," said Jens Hesemann, the UNHCR spokesperson in the DRC.
Massive disruption in North Kivu
Eastern DRC's North Kivu province had been lawless and volatile for more than a decade, wracked by violence involving local militias, renegade soldiers, the military, and armies and rebels from neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda. Since the end of a four-year war in 2002, the government had struggled to bring it under control.
UNHCR said about 500 000 refugees in North Kivu had been displaced long before fighting began last year, bringing the total number of displaced in the province to at least three quarters of a million people.
In the last three days, an estimated 4 000 people arrived at the Bulengo camp, the newest United Nations camp in North Kivu, said Yanekawa.
Forced recruitment in villages
According to Yanekawa: "Some of these refugees come directly from the villages, the bush and the forest where they fled to avoid the recruitment of their children and their adults by the men of Nkunda."
Joseph Kabila, who was elected president of DRC in last year's election, visited the eastern province last week and met with humanitarian agencies to discuss ways to protect civilians and the need to improve access to tense areas.
In a statement last week, UN officials said they had credible evidence indicating Nkunda was continuing to recruit child soldiers in violation of international law.
Nkunda, whose Tutsi ethnic group was a minority in DRC, left the army and formed his own militia soon after the country's war ended in 2002, claiming he needed to fight to protect Tutsis from Rwandan Hutu rebels who took refuge in east DRC after Rwanda's 1994 genocide.
In 2004, Nkunda briefly captured the city of Bukavu. His troops had been accused of torture and rape, and he was named in an international arrest warrant for war crimes. Kabila's government had struggled, with little success, to establish authority over eastern regions thousands of kilometres from Kinshasa.
Ebola: No more 'kissing'
21/09/2007 15:29 - (SA)
Kinshasa - Villagers don't kiss anymore in a corner of Democratic Republic of Congo hit by the deadly and highly contagious Ebola virus.
People began falling ill in April in Kampungu, Western Kasai province, centre of an outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever that had no cure or treatment and killed 50-90% of its victims.
There had been 385 suspected cases of the disease, and 174 had died, though only a handful of cases had been confirmed.
Antoine Bushambu, who worked for a Congolese human rights organisation, said: "People no longer kiss each other when they meet. They don't even shake hands. Those are the instructions the doctors have given to the population. There's been a big change in behaviour."
In the past week, several suspect cases had been reported in Kananga, the capital of Western Kasai.
9 Ebola cases confirmed
The provincial health minister of neighbouring Eastern Kasai said on Thursday that four more cases had been discovered there, raising fears that the outbreak might be spreading beyond its rural confines.
But health officials suspected that many deaths might be due to other illnesses like typhoid or Shigella, a bacterial infection.
A spokesperson for the United Nations World Health Organisation (WHO), Christiana Salvi, said: "So far we have only nine confirmed cases of Ebola, but we don't really know about the rest. We want to have the correct origins of those illnesses."
Without reliable information - something the WHO hoped would change with the arrival of a high-tech mobile laboratory this weekend - health workers were struggling to staunch panic.
Josep Prior, head of Doctors without Borders (MSF) mission in the DRC, said: "There's been no public education or health education. The concept of disease in these places is so far away from the clinical one.
"This is the difference between families hiding patients and people coming in for treatment ... It's extremely important."
250 people killed
Ebola was transmitted through direct contact with blood, body fluids and tissues of infected people. Towards the latter stages, victims became highly contagious and the disease could even be transferred through contact with bodies of the dead.
After a major Ebola outbreak hit the town of Kikwit in neighbouring Bandundu province in 1995, killing 250 people, many were believed to have caught it during the traditional funeral rite of washing corpses, which led to entire families being wiped out despite awareness campaigns.
Health officials hoped this time things would be different.
DRC's health ministry had begun circulating leaflets and posters in several languages, and airing radio and television adverts. Actors were even touring remote villages staging plays that warned of the dangers of Ebola.
Salvi said: "At least it show that people know what's going on and aware of the risks."
A quarantine zone was in place and officials said the disease was largely contained in Kampungu and nearby Luebo village.
But Bushambu said people miles away in Mweka are not taking any chances and age-old village traditions are changing. He said: "There are even those who bring their own cups to places where they drink palm wine. Before they used to share."
Mugabe 'stronger than ever'
21/09/2007 15:29 - (SA)
Harare - Despite an economy close to collapse, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe looks stronger than ever, with the domestic opposition in retreat and Western nations divided over how to deal with him.
Mugabe had brushed aside years of international pressure to step down over charges of ruining the once-prosperous nation, violating human rights and rigging elections to stay in office.
And now political analysts said the divided opposition, intimidated by security forces and weakened by tactical mistakes, presented no real challenge, giving Mugabe space to manoeuvre and to cast calls for his exit as a Western plot.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's threat to boycott December's European Union-Africa summit in Lisbon if Mugabe attended appeared to have misfired, opening a European split on the issue after Portuguese sources said they would push ahead without him.
MDC split into two factions
Mugabe, 83, last of the iconic African liberation heroes in power, retained strong support on the continent despite fears Zimbabwe's meltdown could blight the whole of southern Africa.
With six months to go before presidential, parliamentary and local government elections, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was riven by divisions over strategy, personality clashes and leadership wrangles, which undermined its ability to exploit Zimbabwe's economic crisis.
The MDC split into two factions two years ago in a bitter quarrel over participation in elections for an upper house of parliament, and had been struggling to find the same stature that almost won it power in elections in 2000 and in 2002.
Although the factions - headed by main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara - had found a common platform in talks with Mugabe's Zanu-PF party mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki, they had not agreed on a single candidate to challenge Mugabe in the 2008 polls.
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said the split had left the MDC unable to mount a meaningful challenge in the elections.
He said: "I'm not sure the opposition has its house in order, the leadership continues to wrangle, they remain indecisive and in disarray ... their support base is disoriented and lacks clear direction.
"They need to demonstrate capacity not only to win, but also to guide the nation out of the economic disaster."
The opposition was further divided over a deal under which the MDC and the government unanimously passed an electoral bill on Thursday effectively giving Mugabe room to choose his successor, but reducing his powers to appoint some legislators.
Lovemore Madhuku, chairperson of an MDC-allied political pressure group National Constitutional Assembly, had branded the parliamentary deal a "act of treachery" while rights campaign group Crisis Zimbabwe Coalition said the MDC had sold its soul for no clear gains.
Although Mugabe had largely cowed the opposition by routinely deploying riot police to crush street protests, analysts believed an organised MDC could still pose a strong challenge to Mugabe at the polls, exploiting discontent with misery caused by the economic meltdown.
Zimbabwe faced chronic shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency, as well as unemployment over 80% and the highest inflation rate in the world of 6 600%.
Once one of Africa's most prosperous nations, Zimbabwe's combination of poverty and Aids had brought life expectancy down from nearly 60 in 1990 to about 40 now, among the lowest rates in the world.
Mugabe, Zimbabwe's ruler since independence from Britain in 1980, rejected blame for the crisis, saying domestic and Western opponents were sabotaging the economy to oust him. Tsvangirai - a former trade union leader who had been at the helm of the MDC since its formation eight years ago - was still seen as Mugabe's main challenger.
Very rich indeed
27/09/2007 09:51 - (SA)
With reference to your story titled UN 'favours rich countries', I find it quite interesting and somewhat disturbing that President Mbeki should be complaining about the "skewed distribution of power in the world" and that the rich nations "guide" the UN and other multilateral institutions.
Yet, it seems to me, what President Mbeki expects is that the rich nations should pay for the poor ones simply because they are poor regardless of why they are poor. Dare I say, the majority of poor nations in Africa are poor because their governments are horribly corrupt and have primarily their own personal enrichment in mind while in power.
They have no interest in improving the well being or quality of life of their own people in the long term, in fact they are quite prepared and willing to trample their own people underfoot and effectively destroy their lives, simply in order to stay in power and they do so under the guise of their people's interests!
Yet, they expect the "rich" nations that have bothered to look after their own people and allowed them to prosper by adopting and practicing true democracy, to pay for the corrupt, self serving behaviour of the poor nations' governments!
A case in point is Zimbabwe and its President, Robert Mugabe. Zimbabwe is now a poor nation but it is not poor due to a lack of resources or potential. It is now poor because of the corrupt nature of its leaders in government.
President Mbeki is very quick to place the responsibility for the "poor African nations" on the "rich" West while denying any responsibility for what is happening on his doorstep. Why does he not first speak out and take effective action against governments and leaders like those in Zimbabwe and call for them restore the human rights of their own people?
The majority of rich nations are rich because they have governments that are for their people, by their people and they protect human rights and promote productivity. The majority of the poor African nations are poor because their governments exploit their own people for personal gains, abuse their human rights and take away their ability to be productive.
I end by asking why, for the most part, is it the "rich" nations who speak out against the actions and practices of governments like those of President Mugabe while, for the most part, the "poor" African nations seem to either support him or be afraid to speak out against him? Could this be because they actually have an agenda very similar to that of Mugabe themselves? I wonder.
South african news
Robbers rape wife, stab man
26/09/2007 17:40 - (SA)
Musina - A Limpopo woman was raped and stabbed and her husband stabbed during a robbery at their home in Musina on Wednesday morning, Limpopo police said.
Superintendent Ronel Otto said two men gained access to the house by forcing the door open with a crow bar. After the attack, the men made off with R610 and a cellphone.
They were both in a serious condition in hospital.
Police were also appealing to the public to help find a man, Pieter Johannes Christian Friedlander, who could assist them in connection with the murder of a 37-year-old woman at a lodge in Polokwane on Monday. A cleaner found the body of Sarah Mathipa - who may have been strangled in a room at the lodge.
Girl, 12, 'agreed' to have sex
26/09/2007 21:12 - (SA)
Grahamstown - A 34-year-old father of three young girls, who is charged on two counts of rape and two of indecent assault against a girl 10, and another of 12, told the Grahamstown High Court on Wednesday that he had "consensual sex" with the 12-year-old, because he thought she was 16.
The Westview, Somerset East, man is alleged to have committed the offences near the Victoria Park tennis club on January 10, 2007.
He has pleaded not guilty, but has admitted to having consensual intercourse with the older girl. The state alleges the girl was also sodomised.
Appearing before judge Johan Froneman and taking the witness stand in his own defence, the accused continued to deny he was responsible for assaulting the 10-year-old girl, who is his niece, or raping and indecently assaulting the girl aged 12.
He said one of the girls had asked him for R5 and he had gone with them to an ATM and withdrawn R150 and bought some alcohol, which he gave to the older girl.
"We went to the park and she sat on my lap and fondled my private parts. I thought she was 15 or 16 because I had seen her before in a local tavern."
He admitted that he had had sex with the girl but that she had agreed to it.
Senior advocate Dale Robinson asked him the age of his own daughters, to which the accused replied, three, five and 13.
Robinson said that the two girls who were assaulted were closer to the age of his eldest daughter.
"How an earth could you think the 12-year-old girl, who is very underdeveloped, even for her age, could possibly be 16? She does not speak like a 16-year-old girl, she speaks and has the language skills of a prepubescent child."
Earlier, Doctor Izanne Roos of Somerset East hospital, who had examined the two girls later that evening, confirmed they had both been sexually assaulted.
Roos said both girls had suffered bruising, swelling and tears to their genitals.
However, she said she could not say whether the older girl had been penetrated anally, but could not rule out the possibility.
The trial continues. Advocate Deon Geldenhuys has received instructions from the Legal Aid Board to appear for the defendant.
Rapist gets 2 life sentences
27/09/2007 15:33 - (SA)
Grahamstown - A former army corporal was given two sentences of life imprisonment by the High Court on Thursday for the rape and indecent assault of two girls, aged 10 and 12.
Judge Johan Froneman refused him leave to appeal against his conviction and sentence.
The 34-year-old man was also sentenced to four years for indecently assaulting his 10-year-old niece, and six years for the same offence against the girl of 12. These will run concurrently with the life sentences.
He was found guilty late on Wednesday afternoon of raping and indecently assaulting the girls in Victoria Park, near the Somerset East tennis club on January 10, 2007.
The man, a father of three young girls, pleaded not guilty and admitted to having sexual intercourse with the 12-year-old girl, claiming that it was "consensual".
Froneman said he had difficulty imagining a worst case scenario, when two young children of this age were raped and afterwards indecently assaulted.
He said that evidence presented by a clinical psychologist indicated the physical, psychological and emotional trauma suffered by the two girls had been significant, and if left untreated could have long term consequences.
"The difficulties with young children who have been raped or otherwise sexually abused, is that there is no guarantee that they will ever fully recover, and they will live with these consequences for the rest of their lives." In refusing an application for leave to appeal against both conviction and sentence, Judge Froneman said he had no grounds to think that another court would come to a different conclusion.
Rasta child rapist in court
27/09/2007 20:43 - (SA)
Grahamstown - An apprentice Rastafarian priest, convicted of raping a nine-year-old girl, appeared for a pre-sentencing report in the Grahamstown High Court on Thursday.
Voyolethu Joe of Newvale, Queenstown, appeared before Judge Jeremy Pickering and two assessors.
Joe was found guilty on July 27 this year. The girl was the daughter of a Rastafarian priest, who, the trial court heard, was Joe's mentor in the religious cult.
'Everything is full of blood'
27/09/2007 07:39 - (SA)
Marietie Louw-Carstens, Beeld
Musina - "They raped me three times - three times... Everything is covered in blood."
A severely traumatised Ina du Toit, 65, described the horrific attack on her and her husband Hannes, 67, at their home in the Limpopo town of Musina.
"It was terrible. All our bedding had to be thrown away. Do you know, I'm on Aids-pills now as well?" the near-hysterical Du Toit told Beeld newspaper on Wednesday.
She said their story should be published so that "people can wake up and see what's happening in our land".
'It was horrible'
Their nightmare began in the early hours of Wednesday when two unknown men used a crowbar to force the lock on their home at 4 East Crescent, Bergview.
"We moved into this new house 18 months ago and only the front door still needed a security gate," Du Toit said. The rest of the house was equipped with security gates and burglar proofing.
She and her husband were sleeping in separate rooms because she had recently had a hip operation and was still experiencing pain.
"I went to make tea for myself at about midnight and everything was fine. At about 01:00 I heard my husband shouting."
She went to her husband's room and saw two attackers repeatedly stabbing him with knives, as he lay in his bed.
"One of the men also grabbed me and stabbed me before he dragged me to the kitchen.
"Oh, it was horrible," she sobbed. After this, the other attacker took Du Toit to the bedroom where she slept.
She said the men repeatedly demanded money.
"They kept saying 'Money, money, money,'. I told them we didn't have any, they could take my bank card, but they didn't want to."
The robbers fled after the attack, which lasted about an hour, with only R160, a cellphone and a pair of shoes.
According to the police R600 was stolen. The couple summoned help and their doctor and pastor went to their home.
"It was a fight of over an hour just to stay alive. They wanted to kill us," Du Toit said.
Superintendent Ronel Otto said Hannes du Toit was stabbed seven times.
He was treated for flesh wounds. Hannes works locally as an electrician and the couple have been married for 37 years.
"The doctor was with me and now I'm on Aids-pills (anti-retroviral medication). It's terrible to talk about what happened. In addition, my one arm's numb where I was stabbed with the knife and it's hurting very badly."
The couple were treated at home on Wednesday for their injuries.
A counsellor from Makhado (Louis Trichardt) was scheduled to due to visit Ina on Wednesday night. Otto said a large-scale search for the two suspects was in progress.
5 armed men hit Sandton bank
27/09/2007 17:01 - (SA)
Johannesburg - Five armed men robbed a branch of Standard Bank in Rivonia, Sandton on Thursday, police said.
Police spokesperson Captain Bhekizizwe Mavundla said the men demanded money from tellers, loaded it in a bag and fled.
No shots were fired and no one was reported injured. "All banks have CCTV cameras and we hope they will assist us to obtain pictures of the men," said Mavundla.
down here it is very easy to get away with crime, it's a great place total freedom but somtimes that is the problem
the stronger man is always right