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Global community must boost aid to Central Africa

Global community must boost aid to Central Africa, says UN refugee chief

The international community must increase its support to Central Africa at a crucial time in its troubled history as the region makes the precarious transition from war to peace while being struck hard by drought, the United Nations top refugee official has declared.

“The first impression is one of hope,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres told a news conference in Geneva yesterday after his return from a one-week mission to the Great Lakes region where he visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.

“The resilience of the people is making possible what everywhere else would be a miracle. My appeal to the international community is to provide the conditions for these hopes to be translated into reality. That will require a bigger engagement in the years and months to come,” he added.

Mr. Guterres, who was on an unprecedented mission with the heads of the two other largest UN humanitarian agencies, World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director James Morris and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, said massive human rights violations were still taking place in some of the eastern provinces of the DRC due to the extremely precarious political situation.

“According to the lowest of the figures I received, and there are much higher estimates, the number of rapes in 2005 in the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo was 25,000. This is something intolerable in today's world,” he declared.

He stressed the importance of supporting the efforts of the Congolese government in building a well-trained and disciplined national army in order to improve the country's human rights situation.

“At the moment the armed forces are an important factor of insecurity: not only do they not guarantee security, they actually commit human rights violations themselves,” he said. “The international community has to do more to help the governments train and discipline its army - and for this, the government needs salaries to pay its soldiers and food to feed them.”

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.

Mr. Guterres said a global approach was needed not only on the political level, but also in the humanitarian field, noting that this first joint mission was a clear signal of the UN’s commitment to team-work and using the drought currently affecting eastern and central Africa as an example.

“Many of the displacement problems we have today, and I am talking of tens of thousands of people, are not to do with persecution or conflict but with hunger,” he explained, adding that UNHCR and WFP will need to work together even more closely on this issue.

“We have to address food security to avoid displacement. People should not have to leave their country to be able to receive assistance, but often it is easier for Burundians to find food in a refugee camp in Tanzania than in their village in Burundi.”

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