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Rebel Leader Ceasefire In Eastern DR Congo Holding

Ceasefire in eastern DR Congo holding as UN missions stretched to limit

30 October 2008 – The ceasefire in the volatile eastern portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced by Laurent Nkunda, the leader of a rebel group, is holding, with United Nations blue helmets being stretched to the limit in trying to protect civilians escaping fighting, an official with the world body said today.

Recent days have seen an escalation in hostilities in North Kivu province between Government forces (FARDC) and the militia headed by Mr. Nkunda known as the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP).

The clashes have taken a heavy humanitarian toll, with tens of thousand of people – many of whom had already been uprooted from their homes – fleeing upon news that the CNDP was advancing towards Goma, the provincial capital.

With the halt in fighting announced yesterday, “the question now becomes trying to consolidate that ceasefire, trying to ensure that it holds and moves to the next step,” which is reinvigorating the political processes to address the issues underpinning the conflict, said Kevin Kennedy, who heads the UN Great Lakes Integrated Operational Team.

The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, has been patrolling Goma, where some collapsed FARDC elements have been engaged in looting and firing shots in the air. “MONUC has done its best to bring that situation under control and to make sure that there is a presence in the streets of Goma,” he said.

But Mr. Kennedy, who is the Director of Public Information Designate for MONUC, stressed that the UN mission is “at the absolute limit of its capacities,” with 850 blue helmets, along with support units, in the city with a population of 1 million.

Despite the limited resources, it is making every effort to ensure civilians’ safety, but “the fact is that MONUC’s ability to cover this entire city and to ensure the protection of every individual is obviously simply not there,” he said.

The mission, which has some 17,000 troops in the vast Central African nation, is redeploying forces from other parts of the DRC.

The official, speaking to reporters in New York, expressed concern over the use of internally displaced persons (IDPs) as human shields by the CNDP, making it difficult for MONUC to respond to the situation.

He also pointed out that while the problem in North Kivu, which borders Rwanda and Uganda, is a Congolese issue, “it is nonetheless clear that Rwanda is an important factor in the region,” adding that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been in contact with Rwandan leaders regarding this.

Also on the diplomatic front, Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, has been speaking with Government officials, including President Joseph Kabila, and MONUC has arranged for Rwanda’s Foreign Minister to travel to Kinshasa for talks, with his Congolese counterpart having travelled to Kigali in recent days as well.

Mr. Kennedy today underscored the importance of implementing the twin Goma and Nairobi processes, which are “the fundamental bases for a solution.”

Signed by the Government and armed groups in January, the Goma agreement included a commitment by rebels to withdraw their troops to either disarm or join the brassage process, whereby ex-combatants from armed groups are retrained to form part of FARDC.

The Nairobi communiqué is the November 2007 agreement under which the DRC and Rwanda have agreed to work together against threats to peace and stability in the region.

For his part, the top UN humanitarian official today called for the protection of civilians and “unconditional access” to aid workers trying to assist those in need in North Kivu.

“These military actions do not take place in a vacuum. They can ruin the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” said John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

“We all hope that yesterday’s ceasefire will quickly help to restore minimum security conditions and allow humanitarian actors to work with civilian authorities to assess needs and mount emergency operations to address them,” he added.

Relief workers’ efforts have been restricted by the insecurity, and it is believed there will be significant needs in terms of health, shelter and water and sanitation, Mr. Holmes, who also serves as Emergency Relief Coordinator, noted.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today that 8,000 Congolese have taken flight and crossed the border into Uganda, while yesterday it said that as many as 45,000 people have fled camps for IDPs for Goma.

Although the UN World Food Programme (WFP) was able to distribute food to hospitals in Goma yesterday, its trucks – which are loaded with food and ready to move – remain unable to deliver aid outside the city.

In preparation for the possible movement of refugees from Goma into Rwanda, the agency has prepositioned enough food for 2,000 people at the Nkamira transit centre in Gisenyi, across the border from North Kivu’s capital.

Yesterday, the Security Council spoke out against the “dramatic humanitarian consequences” of the fighting in the DRC’s volatile east, urging all parties to abide by international law and protect civilians, guarantee access to those in need and ensure the safety of aid workers.

The Council affirmed in a presidential statement that any attack against the civilian population, including at major population centres, is totally unacceptable.

UN Messenger of Peace and award-winning actor George Clooney also called on the international community to undertake greater efforts to resolve the conflict and to support MONUC as it tried to protect civilians.

ENDS

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