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Central Africa: funds to prevent bloody nightmare

Central Africa: to prevent new ‘bloody nightmare,’ UN calls for more funds

Seeking to prevent a return to “the bloody nightmare” of civil war that has torn apart the countries of central Africa, the heads of three of the largest United Nation humanitarian agencies today appealed to the international community for substantial additional funding for the transition to peace and democracy.

After a six-day trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi and Rwanda, 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 said that what they had seen and heard showed the need for closer cooperation by all to help refugees, internally displaced people and returnees.

“We have clearly heard their message: ‘Don’t abandon us at this crucial time and risk a return to the bloody nightmare that we lived through for so many years,’” they declared in a statement at the end of their unprecedented joint visit to the Great Lakes region in Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital.

“The courage of the people of the Great Lakes region must be matched by solidarity from the international community. The beginning of the end to this regional crisis is in sight but in order to reach it and rebuild people’s lives, it is vital that we all stand by them and redouble our efforts.”

All three agencies need substantial additional funding for their work in the Great Lakes countries to end the suffering of the millions of people forgotten by the rest of the world.

The agency heads met with the presidents of the DRC, Rwanda and Burundi, donors, UN agencies and partner non-governmental organisations. They also met people driven from their homes by attacks in eastern DRC as well as others who have chosen to return home to the three countries after years in exile.

“It is very important to tackle the main problems facing people in the region from a regional perspective,” they said. “Only a regional approach can be effective.”

The DRC, with UN assistance, is preparing for nationwide elections in June to complete its transition from the most lethal fighting in the world since World War II – a six-year civil war that cost 4 million lives from combat, hunger and disease. Medical experts say 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.

In Rwanda, the three congratulated President Paul Kagame for having guided the country from the tragedy of the 1994 genocide, when Hutu extremists killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, towards peace, reconciliation and development.

But the government estimates that 1 million people require food assistance for the first six months of this year.

In Burundi, where 2.2 million people, including refugees and returnees, need food aid in 2006 because of poor rains, crop disease and poverty, the three held talks with President Pierre Nkurunziza and visited a feeding centre for malnourished women and children.

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