UN-backed peace summit begins in volatile eastern DR Congo
A United Nations-supported conference aimed at bringing peace, security and development to the strife-torn eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is underway in North Kivu province, where fighting has uprooted hundreds of thousands of people in the past year.
Over 1,000 delegates are taking part in the nine-day summit which began yesterday in Goma, the capital of North Kivu, where fighting has escalated in recent months between Government troops and rebels allied with the dissident army general, Laurent Nkunda, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes.
The UN refugee agency estimates that over the last year, a mix of conflict, military build-up and spiralling lawlessness has displaced 400,000 people in North Kivu – the worst displacement since the end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are an estimated 800,000 displaced people in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.
Last month Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced his hopes for the summit, stating that it has the potential to make “important steps towards ending the suffering of the population and establishing a global plan for security, stability and progress in these provinces.”
Among those attending the conference are representatives of the national and provincial authorities and delegates from the Congress for the Defence of the People, the political wing of the armed rebellion led by General Nkunda.
Although the DRC held its first democratic elections in over four decades in 2006, solidifying its transition from a six-year civil war that cost 4 million lives, fighting has continued in the volatile east of the vast country.
The outgoing Special Representative of the Secretary-General, William Swing, recalled the efforts made by the DRC with the assistance of the international community in relation to the elections.
“In spite of the encountered difficulties, you have a Government which functions, a parliament which functions; all the new institutions resulting from the ballot boxes were implemented,” he pointed out.
Mr. Swing, who is also head of the UN mission in the DRC (MONUC), led a delegation of 40 ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps to Goma. “This conference is a noble chance to find the practical solutions to the problems which divide you,” he told delegates.