DR of Congo: Annan urges international response to violence in Bunia

DR of Congo: Annan urges international response to violence in Bunia

UN peacekeepers in the DR of Congo
Warning that rising violence in the Congolese town of Bunia could lead to massive civilian deaths, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged action by the Security Council and Uganda to calm the situation.

"I am deeply alarmed by the deterioration of the security situation in Bunia," Mr. Annan said in a statement released in New York.

Thousands of civilians have fled their homes while militia groups are fighting for control of the town and engaged in extensive looting. The Bunia headquarters of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo(MONUC) has been attacked by militias, despite the fact that it is sheltering thousands of innocent civilians. Militias have also fired into crowds of displaced persons seeking shelter near Bunia airport.

Addressing the Security Council on Friday, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations warned that although nearly 700 UN troops had been deployed to Bunia, without decisive action, the situation might nevertheless spin out of control, leading possibly to the massive killing of civilians. Recalling this, Mr. Annan said, "I am therefore asking the Security Council to consider effective measures to prevent the situation from deteriorating with further loss of civilian lives."

The Secretary-General also noted that he has called on the Government of Uganda to use its influence over militia forces in Ituri to maintain calm. "As Ugandan troops continue to withdraw from the Ituri region, they must do so in a phased and orderly manner, with due respect for the protection of civilians," he stressed.

Mr. Annan also commended the courage shown by MONUC personnel in Bunia, as well as by members of the UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) located there, who are trying to keep an elusive peace, despite overwhelming odds.

Above all, he voiced concern over the plight of non-combatants. "My heart goes out to the innocent civilians who once again find themselves at the mercy of unruly militia," he said. "The international community must make every effort to quickly address this dire situation."