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UN force commander urges ceasefire in volatile eastern DR Congo

UN force commander urges ceasefire in volatile eastern DR Congo

Maj-Gen. Babacar Gaye, MONUC Force Commander
With violence flaring in the volatile eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a senior United Nations military official based in the country today called for a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement to the conflict which has pit government troops against faction leader Laurent Nkunda.

Speaking at a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York, Major-General Babacar Gaye, Force Commander of the UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), said the situation is extremely complex and warned that it requires a “very measured response.”

He said the fighting has potential wider implications for the subregion, characterizing General Nkunda as a self-styled leader of the Tutsi community, which is present on both sides of the DRC-Rwanda border. “Laurent Nkunda considers himself a spokesman and protector of the Tutsi community, of whom one part are refugees in Rwanda, and the return of these refugees is the first thing he is demanding of the Government,” explained Mr. Gaye.

Their return, he added, must be predicated on a settlement of the situation in northern Kivu. This, in turn, requires attention to the overall security sector reform, he stressed, pointing out that “it is the weakness of the Congolese State which makes it difficult to extend its authority to all parts of northern Kivu, which has led Laurent Nkunda to progressively fill the void the State has left.”

He recalled that mixed brigades were a temporary solution to a confrontation that existed between forces loyal to General Nkunda and Government units. About three weeks ago to the northeast of Goma, MONUC had to intervene to avoid a confrontation between a Nkunda battalion and a Government battalion.

“When we saw this trend happening within the other mixed brigades we understood that the conditions were there for a confrontation,” said the Force Commander.

Maj.-Gen. Gaye said from what he had learned, Laurent Nkunda “is outstretching his hand to soldiers that were his prisoners as well as to negotiate with the Government.” For its part, MONUC would help that process, he said. “There should immediately be a ceasefire and a negotiated solution because clearly the first victims of these confrontations are the civilian populations.”

The Force Commander said it is desirable to have a negotiated solution “to avoid having insecurity become endemic in northern Kivu.”

On what MONUC has done, he stressed that it had for three months reinforced its North Kivu brigade with an additional battalion while increasing its mobile operations and providing “measured support” to the Congolese Army, known by its French acronym FARDC.

Asked about the role of Rwanda, he said “obviously Rwanda to my opinion will never accept that they are providing support on an official basis to Laurent Nkunda but the reality is that because the Tutsi community is living on both side of the borders you may have people who are coming on their own to support Laurent Nkunda. But there is no indication that there is an intervention.”

In a separate development, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes was in South Kivu Province today, where he met recently internally displaced persons (IDPs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Mr. Holmes also went to the General Referral Hospital of Panzi. Dr. Denis Mukwege, head of the hospital, described widespread sexual violence, with victims often publicly raped by multiple perpetrators frequently in front of their families and communities. One-third of the survivors are shot or stabbed in their genitals and therefore require complex surgical procedures. In the first six months of this year in South Kivu alone, 4,500 cases of sexual violence have been reported, but the real number is many times higher.

“I am not the same person now as I was when I walked in here – I have heard stories today that go beyond the imagination,” Mr. Holmes said. “I cannot find the words to describe what I have heard today. The only thing I can say is never again. I will remember these stories for the rest of my life.”

On Friday, he is scheduled to travel to North Kivu Province, where fighting has displaced more than 10,000 civilians since 27 August, according to OCHA. Since December 2006, North Kivu has been ravaged by violent clashes leading to the displacement of more than 224,000 people.