Eastern DR Congo Relatively Calm
Eastern DR Congo Relatively Calm, UN Mission Reports
21 November 2008 – The security situation in war-torn east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is calm, with the recent ceasefire apparently holding, the United Nations peacekeeping mission to the country reported today.
North Kivu province, which borders Rwanda, has been the scene of fierce fighting between Congolese military forces (FARDC) and a rebel militia known as the CNDP, which is led by renegade army general Laurent Nkunda. Other armed groups, including the Mayi Mayi, have also been involved in clashes, some of which have been along ethnic lines. The violence has uprooted an estimated quarter of a million civilians in the past few months.
Yesterday, the Security Council authorized a temporary increase of more than 3,000 blue helmets serving with the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known by its French acronym MONUC, to deal with the violence in the country’s east.
The extra 2,785 troops and 300 police officers will buttress the 17,000 uniformed personnel already serving with the mission, the largest UN force worldwide but one faced with the task of quelling unrest and protecting civilians in one of Africa’s largest countries.
MONUC said that there have been three minor incidents involving brief exchanges of fire between Mayi Mayi fighters and CNDP rebels, but no casualties have been reported.
In the provincial capital Goma, MONUC is continuing to reinforce its troops, with patrols being carried out together with FARDC and the Congolese National Police (CNP) to boost safety in the city.
The mission also spoke out against the systematic plundering carried out by uniformed men of a nutritional centre, run by a non-governmental organization (NGO), which tends to 50 malnourished children in Kanya, some 200 kilometres away from Goma.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today that looting has continued in North Kivu, even as fighting has subsided. An office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kirumba, situated north of Goma, has been looted, and civilians in the province are constantly afraid given the insecurity, illegal roadblocks and cases of forced labour.
OCHA also said that there have been 20 cases of sexual violence in the past week.
For its part, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed its mounting concern for the safety of nearly 70,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) taking shelter in camps, where shootings and lootings have been reported, outside Goma.
Early this morning, a 20-year-old woman was shot and killed at the Kibati camp, on the northern outskirts of the capital. Several families were forced to flee their huts, which where then looted by armed men.
“Our team in Kibati is assessing the situation and the needs of the victims,” UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told reporters in Geneva.
The agency has continually voiced its concern for the safety of some 67,000 IDPs taking refuge in these camps.
“We fear that the civilian population, already in a dramatic and desperate humanitarian situation, could be caught in the crossfire, should fighting resume in the area,” Mr. Spindler said.
The latest report of violence in the Kibati camps today increases the urgency of moving the nearly 70,000 IDPs to the new Mugunga camp, some 15 kilometres from Goma.
“We, together with our partners, have been taking advantage of relative calm in North Kivu this week to step up work on a new camp for up to 30,000 displaced people,” Mr. Spindler noted.
The break in fighting has allowed UNHCR and its partners to start construction on housing blocks and critical infrastructure, such as roads and latrines. Additionally, a water distribution system is being built to supply up to 10,000 people.
The agency spokesperson pointed out that the working conditions are very difficult, with the site lying on hardened lava rock.
He said that the voluntary relocation of IDPs from Kibati will begin as soon as the basic infrastructure is in place. Most people will make the journey by foot, with truck transportation being supplied for young children, the elderly and the infirm.
UNHCR will also bringing in additional aid into North Kivu, with six trucks loaded with relief supplies – including plastic sheeting, kitchen sets, thermal blankets and mosquito having arrived earlier this week from Tanzania.
The UN World Health Organization (WHO) said that nearly 500 cholera cases, including nine deaths, have been reported since 10 November in North Kivu, with most of those affected being IDPs. Steps have been taken to boost access to clean water and improved sanitation.
During the same period, more than 100 measles cases and two deaths have been reported, and a vaccination campaign will kick off next week.
WHO has provided 100 litres of intravenous fluid to restock a cholera treatment centre in Goma, and the agency cites as priority concerns the protection of the uprooted and aid workers, as well as the opening of safe humanitarian corridors.