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DR Congo: UN mission to Central Africa visits

DR Congo: UN mission to Central Africa visits war-torn eastern region

The joint mission to Central Africa by the heads of three United Nations humanitarian agencies is now in the eastern region of the war-shattered Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where they plan to meet refugees returning home by boat from neighbouring Tanzania.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres, World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director James Morris and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Ann M. Veneman are on an unprecedented joint visit to the Great Lakes region to see how best their agencies and the international community can help the peoples of the troubled area make the transition to a stable peace and full democracy.

The three today visited the DRC's eastern region of south Kivu, which has been racked by continual outbreaks of fighting.

Only yesterday, the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) announced that 300 ‘blue helmets’ of its peacekeeping force, backed by combat helicopters, were helping the Congolese army to drive out rebels from neighbouring Rwanda who have been operating in the heavily forested area north of Bukavu, South Kivu’s main city, for the past 10 years.

“MONUC is intervening to bring security to the region and assure the protection of the civilian population,” the mission said in a statement on its support for more than 1,000 Congolese soldiers seeking to dislodge and disarm Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The Hutus moved across the border in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus by extremist Hutus, in which 800,000 people are estimated to have died.

Mr. Guterres has stressed the importance of finding regional solutions for the Great Lakes, saying that the problems of DRC, which is moving towards national elections in June as part of a peace plan after the most lethal fighting in the world since World War II, could not be solved without addressing the problems in Rwanda and Burundi.

A six-year war cost 4 million lives, and medical experts say a further 1,200 people are still dying needlessly every day. More than 3.4 million have been displaced from their homes and 17 million don't have a steady supply of food.

Later today, the three heads are scheduled to travel on to Rwanda and Burundi, which have also been afflicted by decades of civil war and humanitarian crises.

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