The United Nations humanitarian chief and President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today voiced their extreme concern about the humanitarian situation in the far east of the country, where a fresh outbreak of fighting among Government forces, renegade troops and armed groups has displaced more than 10,000 civilians in the past 10 days.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes met with Mr. Kabila in the capital, Kinshasa, where they discussed the situation in North Kivu province and the need for greater protection for civilians, especially from sexual and gender-based violence.
Mr. Holmes, who is also Emergency Relief Coordinator, called on all sides to the fighting in North Kivu to respect fundamental humanitarian principles, such as allowing aid workers unconditional and free access to the local civilian population.
“Moreover, all armed groups should refrain from targeting civilians,” he told a press conference in Kinshasa after his meeting with Mr. Kabila. “The Government of the DRC must honour its commitment to protect the entire civilian population on its territory.”
Mr. Kabila described the situation in the east as “catastrophic,” although he said it was not representative of the vast country as a whole as it seeks to recover from the effects of decades of misrule and a war in the late 1990s that claimed millions of lives.
The spiralling tensions in North Kivu and neighbouring regions have alarmed UN officials in recent days as thousands of civilians have been forced to flee the fighting, the latest outbreak in a series of flare-ups since December 2006. More than 220,000 people have been displaced from the area since that period, and relief efforts are being further hampered by the poor state of roads in the country.
The UN peacekeeping mission to the DRC, known as MONUC, has dispatched reinforcement troops to the Masisi district of North Kivu, 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 civil war and last year’s historic national presidential and parliamentary elections.
Mr. Holmes is heading to Bukavu in South Kivu for two days of talks with UN agency staff, other aid organizations and representatives of internally displaced persons (IDPs). He will also visit a local hospital and a centre for child soldiers before meeting provincial authorities.