Spiralling violence in far eastern DR Congo leads UN mission to send troops

Spiralling violence in far eastern DR Congo leads UN mission to send troops

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has sent in reinforcement troops and stepped up the diplomatic pressure on both sides of the opposing factions of the armed forces in the volatile far east of the country in a bid to stop the fighting there that has forced thousands of Congolese to flee their homes.

The mission, known as MONUC, reported today that it has dispatched 200 reinforcement troops to the area around the town of Katale in the Masisi district of North Kivu province, where the worst clashes have been taking place.

These troops have been transferred from elsewhere in the two Kivu provinces, which have remained unstable since the official end of the country’s civil war and last year’s historic national presidential and parliamentary elections.

MONUC said it has also increased the number of helicopter overflights so it can both obtain a better picture of the situation on the ground and deter further fighting.

It is also exerting pressure on both sides of the national armed forces, known as FARDC, which are supposed to have integrated with soldiers from former rebel groups after the conflict.

But elements supportive of renegade Gen. Nkunda have been clashing with regular FARDC forces in recent days, and MONUC is trying to urge the two groups to settle their differences through dialogue.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, is due to arrive in the DRC on Monday for a week-long visit that is expected to include a trip to the Kivu provinces.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today that at least 9,000 people have had to flee Masisi and neighbouring Rutshuru districts in the past month because of the spiralling tensions.

UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis warned reporters in Geneva that “with heightened tensions and the build-up of military forces, the situation risks turning into a humanitarian and human rights disaster.”

More than 20 makeshift camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) have emerged in North Kivu since last December as the capacity of local host families to absorb the new arrivals has been overwhelmed.

In one camp, at Mugunga, some 15 kilometres west of the regional centre of Goma, some 9,000 people have arrived in the past three weeks, swelling the overall number of residents to 18,000. UNHCR staff in the region report that more IDPs are arriving at other sites each day.

More than 650,000 people are now internally displaced within North Kivu, including at least 180,000 since last December. Tens of thousands of others have fled over the border to neighbouring Uganda.

The deteriorating security situation means humanitarian agencies have limited access to the IDPs, but UNHCR said it was organizing camp management training for IDP leaders and local authorities in Mugunga.