More clashes in DR Congo’s North Kivu will harm civilians, UN official warns

More clashes in DR Congo’s North Kivu will harm civilians, UN official warns

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A senior United Nations envoy to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has called on parties in the country’s troubled North Kivu province to avoid any actions that could harm the already beleaguered civilian population in the area.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Deputy Special Representative for the DRC, Ross Mountain, made his appeal following a weekend visit to North Kivu, where he held talks with provincial authorities as well as representatives of the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), UN agencies and humanitarian partners.

He also visited camps housing some 45,000 displaced people, most having fled their homes following engagements between the Congolese army (FARDC) and Laurent Nkunda’s rebels in Sake and its environs at the beginning of September.

Mr. Mountain hailed a recent agreement reached between the Congolese and Rwandan Governments as an “important step ahead towards peace in the area.” Signed in Nairobi earlier this month, the pact calls for a common approach to threats to peace in the region, including measures to end impunity.

“Certainly, in accordance with the Nairobi agreement, the planning of military operations is in hand,” said Mr. Mountain, who is also the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in the DRC.

“But we continue to hope that before their implementation, the armed groups will understand the immense suffering which would be inflicted on their communities and all the population if they persist in their refusal to surrender, and as regards the Congolese armed groups, that they join the brassage process,” he added, referring to a retraining programme for ex-combatants.

“I launch a call to everyone, as well as governmental forces and other involved forces so that they abstain from any actions that would put the civilian population in danger. Such acts are contrary to international humanitarian law,” Mr. Mountain said.

With some 400,000 newly displaced in North Kivu since December 2006, Mr. Mountain stressed that many of them continue to live under extremely precarious conditions, some without any outside assistance.

He pledged to work with the Congolese authorities and other partners “to try to address the needs of these people.”

Mr. Mountain emphasized the need for an end to violence. “Everyone must be conscious that if clashes intensify – and there already has been too much – civilians, in particular women and children, will be once more the main victims,” he said.

“Our priority, today, is to seek ways and means of stabilizing this province durably, in order to allow these people, who have suffered so much, to return home and finally be able to profit from the riches of their country.”

On Friday, UN Force Commander General Babacar Gaye noted that not enough dissident soldiers had joined the Congolese Army through brassage. He added that the next step may require UN peacekeepers to use force to disarm illegal armed groups, including the one led by General Nkunda.