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Update No. 96/1 on ICRC activities in Zaire

22-10-1996 Operational Update

Rapid and dramatic changes during the last few days in Kivu province in eastern Zaire have adversely affected ICRC efforts to step up its medical operation for the war-wounded in Uvira hospital. Fighting between the various armed forces has intensified and combatants are not entirely under the control of their superiors. Medical staff and facilities, as well as other premises and vehicles used by humanitarian organizations, are sometimes the target of attack. Providing medical treatment for the wounded and sick is fraught with great difficulty.

 The planned ICRC hospital in Uvira  

On 17 October, a chartered C-130 Hercules plane transported 18 tonnes of medical and surgical equipment provided by the German Red Cross Society (GRCS) to Uvira. A technician and a surgical team, also provided by the GRCS, immediately started installing the surgical unit and treatment of the war-wounded should have begun on Monday, 21 October. This did not happen as on 18 October, the ICRC Hercules was shot at during its approach to Kiliba airstrip, and two days later work in the hospital had to be suspended to ensure the safety of expatriate staff.

 Evacuating the expatriates from Uvira  

Given this extremely volatile security situation, UNHCR declared a level four security alert and ordered the evacuation of expatriate staff from Uvira on 20 October. The same day a first attempt to evacuate over 50 foreigners from various organizations from Uvira failed. The second attempt on 21 October, from Kiliba airstrip, had to be cancelled because th e plane did not arrive before nightfall. All expatriates, protected by the Zairian contingent, returned to Uvira town and spent the night together in the same compound.

Today, a little after two p.m., a World Food Programme plane and an ICRC plane were able to evacuate 54 foreign staff from Kiliba to Goma, including all eleven ICRC expatriates (four of whom are seconded from the German Red Cross and one each from the Red Cross Societies of Australia, Belgium and Denmark).

 Refugees on the move  

On the Ruzizi plain above Uvira 12 refugee camps house approximately 250,000 people from Burundi and Rwanda. Recent events and fear of attack forced the refugees to leave the camps and move towards Bukavu, 130 kilometres north of Uvira. A few thousand reached Bukavu today, but it is too early to say if and when the majority of the refugees will arrive in the Bukavu region, and what needs and difficulties such a new influx may cause.

Furthermore, numerous security incidents and fighting has occurred over the last few days north of the city of Goma and it is feared that massive displacements of refugees from the camps in northern Kivu may also take place.

The ICRC sub-delegations in Bukavu and Goma are preparing for an influx of refugees and displaced people and are taking precautionary measures in the face of the deteriorating security situation.