Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been heavily engaged in discussions with leaders in Africa, the European Union (EU) and the United States in an effort to stabilize the situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), while calling for a continued halt to the fighting which has uprooted hundreds of thousands of people.
Characterizing the situation on the ground in North Kivu province as “very threatening,” Mr. Ban told reporters in the Indian capital New Delhi that he has been in contact with DRC President Joseph Kabila, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who is also the President of the African Union (AU) and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
He has also spoken to Chairman Jean Ping of the African Commission, EU High Representative Javier Solana, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Foreign Secretary David Miliband of the United Kingdom, among other others.
In his conversation with these officials, the Secretary-General stressed the “importance of doing everything possible to consolidate the current ceasefire and halt further violence,” as well as give aid workers unfettered access, according to a statement issued by his spokesperson.
He also urged them to do their utmost to bring the sides to a neutral venue for talks, with Mr. Kikwete and Mr. Ping suggesting a regional summit at either the Tanzanian capital Dar-es-salaam or the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. The Secretary-General has also discussed appointing a UN Special Envoy to the region.
Today, Mr. Ban asked Alain LeRoy, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, to travel to the region in a bid to resolve the crisis in eastern DRC.
Earlier this week, he dispatched two of his senior aides to the region: Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmund Mulet to the DRC and Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios to Rwanda.
Addressing the press in India today, the Secretary-General stressed that the ceasefire announced by rebel leader Laurent Nkunda should be kept, and that “the international community, African leaders – particularly those leaders in the region – should take very concrete measures so that this ceasefire can be maintained… and there should be a disengagement of the forces from there.”
Recent days have seen an escalation in hostilities in North Kivu – which borders Rwanda and Uganda – between Government forces (FARDC) and the militia headed by Mr. Nkunda, known as the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP).
Humanitarian agencies estimate that the clashes have sent as many as one quarter of a million people – many of whom had already been uprooted from their homes – fleeing, bringing the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in North Kivu to over 1 million.
The UN peacekeeping mission in the country, known as MONUC, reported today that the situation in the provincial capital, Goma, remains calm, with no outbreak of fighting occurring over the past 24 hours.
FARDC forces have returned to the airport and taken over security responsibilities, while MONUC patrols last night on Goma’s streets aimed to reassure civilians. Nearly two dozen people were killed two days ago in the city, including eight government soldiers who were shot while taking part in looting. The UN is also investigating reports of rape.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of MONUC, Alan Doss, travelled to Goma today to assess the situation and to meet with local authorities and aid workers. He was part of delegation that also included Jendayi Frazer, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and Ali Bongo, AU Representative to the DRC.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that most of the relief workers besieged in Rutshuru and Kiwanja have been evacuated by MONUC helicopters.
MONUC – which has been mandated by the Security Council to protect civilians – has fewer than 1,000 troops in Goma, which has a population of some 1 million.
In today’s statement, Mr. Ban acknowledged that there is a limit to what UN forces can do in the region, emphasizing that the mission “must be given the additional resources it needs to carry out its mandate” and calling on the Council to speed up its efforts to support complement MONUC.
“As the only organized force currently maintaining security in Goma, MONUC has done its utmost to protect civilians and humanitarian workers.”