Groups in DR of Congo deliberately inciting ethnic hatred, UN official says

Groups in DR of Congo deliberately inciting ethnic hatred, UN official says

Carolyn McAskie
Armed groups in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are deliberately inciting ethnic hatred as part of the ongoing fighting there, and unless the international community acts to forestall it, the country faces a “massacre of horrific proportions,” a senior United Nations relief official said today.

Speaking at a press briefing on her recent mission to the DRC and Burundi, the UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Carolyn McAskie, told reporters that the messages emanating from that part of the country were “sounding very familiar” and that “we have heard them before” in the region.

According to the UN, more than 2.5 million people have died in the country between 1998 and April 2001 as a result of the conflict and many UN agencies and non-governmental organizations routinely report widespread killings, torture and other human rights abuses against civilians by armed groups on all sides.

In one incident, a hospital was surrounded and hundreds of people were killed, Ms. McAskie said, while children have been turning up in hospitals with mutilations and machete cuts. Sexual violence has also been used as a weapon of war by most of the forces involved in the conflict.

Ms. McAskie said that in addition to the fighting, one third of the country’s population – 16 million people – have critical food needs. Sixty-four per cent of people in the eastern DRC were undernourished while 41 per cent of all children in the country under the age of five were malnourished. Altogether, about 330,000 Congolese refugees live in the neighbouring countries of Tanzania, the Republic of Congo and Zambia.

Meanwhile, HIV prevalence rates among soldiers and irregular combatants stood at 60 per cent in the war-torn country, which, despite its huge stores of natural resources, ranks 152nd out of 174 countries in the UN’s Human Development Index.

While the recent withdrawal of foreign troops from the country would lead to peace in the long run, Ms. McAskie noted, their departure had exposed a number of ongoing internal conflicts that could continue to fuel humanitarian crises in the region. In the DRC, she said, “there is no such thing as a humanitarian crisis. There are a series of humanitarian crises.”