Top UN officials head to northeastern DR of Congo to assess situation in Bunia

23 May 2003

Senior United Nations peacekeeping and humanitarian officials have arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to meet with top government officials and assess the situation in the country's bloodied northeastern town of Bunia, where an inter-ethnic power struggle has been raging for weeks.

According to a UN spokesman in New York, the Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno arrived in the DRC yesterday and has met with President Joseph Kabila. "He will also be travelling to Bunia to assess the situation there," Fred Eckhard said at a press briefing.

Meanwhile, Carolyn McAskie, the UN's Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, is currently visiting North and South Kivu. If security conditions permit, she, too, will travel to Bunia to get a first-hand look at the humanitarian situation and the steps being taken to address it.

In the meantime, the French reconnaissance team that visited Bunia and the Ituri province to lay the groundwork for the possible deployment of troops is now in Kinshasa for de-briefings with the UN. "The UN is providing full information on the situation to Member States interested in participating in the multinational force recommended for Bunia by the Secretary-General last week," Mr. Eckhard said.

Chaos has swept Ituri since the pull-out earlier this month of Ugandan troops as called for in last year's peace accord to end the DRC's five-year war. The Ugandan military commander, Brigadier Kayihura, wrote to the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) on 8 May complaining about continued fighting in Ituri and declaring that Uganda would re-enter the DRC if elements threatening Ugandan security remain in control close to the two countries' border.

Though Bunia has experienced a few days of relative quiet, the humanitarian situation there - and throughout the volatile Ituri district - remains critical. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that due to simmering tensions between the rival Hema and Lendu militia - locked in a deadly struggle for control of the mineral-rich area - and a pervading lack of security, aid groups are able to assist only a small number of people within Bunia and have virtually no access to desperate populations elsewhere in Ituri.

OCHA reported that Bunia itself is nearly deserted, after roughly 80 per cent of its approximately 150,000 residents fled the town after nearly two weeks of clashes and killings of unarmed people left more than 300 dead. Humanitarian agencies on the scene continue to provide medical services for some 9,000 internally displaced persons at camps concentrated around the local airport and roughly 6,000 who have been sheltering near the local UN compound. Plastic sheeting and high-protein biscuits are also being distributed. Humanitarian partners have managed to restore water and electricity supplies to the town after they had been shut down by fighting forces.


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