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DR Congo: warning of ‘huge risk’ of new conflict

DR Congo: warning of ‘huge risk’ of new conflict, UN agencies urge greater aid

Warning that there is “a huge risk for conflict to rise again” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC), the top United Nations refugee official has called on the international community to provide greater support for the vast country’s transition to full democracy for the first time in 45 years.

“The scale of the problem, the complexity of the problem, and the nature of the problem are such that all our resources combined together won't easily solve it,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres told ambassadors from donor countries in Kinshasa, capital of a nation that is moving towards national elections in June after the most lethal fighting in the world since World War II.

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.

“We are morally obliged to act together. Separately, UN agencies cannot do much. Together we can really make a difference,” Mr. Guterres declared, speaking on the first day of a visit to the Great Lakes region with the heads of two of the UN's other large humanitarian agencies, World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director James Morris and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.

He said the unprecedented mission of the three agency heads showed their “total solidarity with this area and its people” as well as the commitment of UN agencies to co-operate more closely with each other.

The UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) is not only fielding nearly 17,000 soldiers and police to help bring stability but is also engaged in the biggest and most expensive electoral process the world body has ever helped organize. Its various agencies are also involved in the full spectrum of humanitarian activities.

The three agency heads today met with DRC President Joseph Kabila for 45 minutes, discussing the need for the international community to help DRC protect its own citizens. Later today they were scheduled to travel to eastern DRC where tomorrow they plan to meet refugees returning home from camps in Tanzania with UNHCR's help.

Over 57,000 Congolese refugees have returned home since October 2004, of whom 22,000 were assisted by the UN refugee agency.

The three lamented that the DRC’s tragedy was unfolding out of the glare of television cameras, and out of the consciousness of the developed world. All three UN agencies say they are dramatically under-funded compared to the needs of the three Great Lakes countries they will visit on this trip.

After the DRC they move on to Rwanda and Burundi to underline the need to find a regional solution to conflict and displacement in the Great Lakes.

“You cannot solve the political problems of Congo if at the same time you do not address the problems of Rwandans and Burundians,” Mr. Guterres said, referring to the DRC’s two small neighbours which have also been afflicted by decades of civil war and humanitarian crises, including the 1994 Rwandan genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus by extremist Hutus, in which 800,000 people are estimated to have died.

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