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Upsurge In Violent Clashes In E. DR Congo Alarming

Upsurge in violent clashes in eastern DR Congo alarms Secretary-General

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today that he was deeply concerned by the intense fighting engulfing North Kivu province in the far east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), especially its impact on local civilians, many of whom have been forced to flee to escape the renewed violence.

In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban said he was "particularly troubled by reports of massive displacement and mistreatment of the population" in North Kivu, where Government forces (FARDC) are clashing with troops loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda.

"The United Nations is working closely with the Government of the DRC and with others to help bring peace and security to this troubled region," the statement noted. "The Secretary-General calls on the forces of Laurent Nkunda to lay down their arms."

More than 4,500 blue helmets with the UN peacekeeping mission to the DRC (known by its French acronym MONUC) have been deployed to North Kivu to help ensure the defence of Goma, the provincial capital, and the key town of Saké.

William Lacy Swing, the head of MONUC and the Secretary-General's Special Representative to the DRC, has confirmed that Saké remains under the control of UN peacekeepers and that the blue helmets will do everything under their mandated powers to protect Goma and Saké from falling to the Nkunda forces. Yesterday dissident troops recaptured Mushake, a hillside town about 40 kilometres northwest of Goma.

Since the clashes began in North Kivu earlier this year, MONUC has transported more than 25 tons of provisions for the Congolese armed forces, conducted 33 air reconnaissance missions and evacuated 151 wounded FARDC soldiers.

North Kivu has also been plagued by increased sexual violence against both women and young girls, with some 2,700 cases of rape reported between January and October this year in the province.

The statement from Mr. Ban's spokesperson emphasized that the mission backs the Government's efforts to establish legitimate State authority in the far east of the troubled country and to meet its commitment under the Nairobi communiqué, which the DRC and Rwanda signed last month to try to work together against illegal armed groups operating around the border between the two countries.

"The Secretary-General calls on the Government of the DRC to take all measures necessary to protect civilians."

An inter-agency UN mission headed to the area this week to assess the situation and devise recommendations on how to protect internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the local civilian population.

Yet this week alone, another 60,000 to 70,000 IDPs are reported to be on the move again, this time from camps near Goma. More than 400,000 people have been displaced in North Kivu in the past 12 months.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that currently all humanitarian movements outside Goma are proceeding only under the escort of MONUC blue helmets. Several relief agencies have temporarily withdrawn their staff from areas close to clashes and most aid convoys have been postponed.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has deposited several thousand basic supply kits to zones that might soon become inaccessible because of the fighting, while the World Food Programme (WFP) is distributing food to thousands of families living at the IDP camp at Kibumba.

The UN's humanitarian action plan for the DRC next year, launched yesterday, calls for $575 million, with almost 30 per cent of the total dedicated just to North Kivu.

The eastern DRC remains the most violent region in the vast country, where MONUC has otherwise overseen the transition from a six-year civil war that cost 4 million lives in fighting and attendant hunger and disease - widely considered the most lethal conflict in the world since World War II - to gradual stabilization, culminating in the first democratic elections in over four decades last year.


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