Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is leaving today for Nairobi to attend a United Nations-backed summit aimed at ending the crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where fighting continues for a second straight day despite a recent ceasefire and aid agencies are trying to assist hundreds of thousands of displaced people.
Also expected to participate in Friday’s summit, which is hosted by the African Union (AU), are the Presidents of Kenya, DRC, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Africa.
Speaking to reporters in New York today, Mr. Ban said he will sit down together with Presidents Joseph Kabila of the DRC and Paul Kagame of Rwanda and “encourage them to find a path to peace.”
Earlier this week Mr. Ban appointed former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo to serve as his Special Envoy on the issue and to work with leaders in the region and the broader international community to end the crisis, which has forced an estimated 250,000 people to flee their homes in recent months.
Meanwhile, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, has condemned the resumption of fighting in the town of Rutshuru in North Kivu, which has been the scene of deadly clashes in recent months between Government forces (FARDC) and the rebel National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), led by renegade general Laurent Nkunda.
Since Tuesday there has been heavy fighting between the CNDP and elements of the PARECO and Mayi Mayi militia groups in the vicinity of Rutshuru.
“This violation of the ceasefire poses a new threat to the security of civilian populations, could worsen the already dire humanitarian situation, and also endangers the intensive efforts at all levels to overcome the current crisis,” the mission said in a news release.
The 17,000-strong force has been stretched to the limit in recent weeks trying to carry out its mandate to protect civilians amid the violence. MONUC currently has 5,000 peacekeepers in North Kivu, including some 1,700 in Goma, where the ceasefire seems to be holding and which has a swelling population of between 700,000 and 1 million.
The mission has begun reinforcing its troops in North Kivu, particularly in Goma, to lift the threat of armed groups from local populations, UN peacekeeping chief Alain LeRoy told a news conference in Goma today at the end of a three-day visit to the area.
Both Mr. Le Roy and Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of MONUC, called on all armed groups to cease fire, and in particular for an end to hostilities in Rutshuru.
“We are currently in contact with all armed groups here and have demanded the withdrawal of all armed groups from Rutshuru and its vicinity so that MONUC can guarantee the protection of civilians there,” Mr. Doss told reporters.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) today began distributing food to over 135,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in six camps around Goma.
“WFP is responding as quickly as possible to deliver food to people who’ve been brutalised too many times over many years,” said Mustapha Darboe, the agency’s Regional Director for Southern, Eastern and Central Africa.
“Now they are suffering again. Tens of thousands have been uprooted in North Kivu and we are doing everything we can to find them and help them,” he added.
The 10-day rations will be distributed in all camps at the same time to avoid any disturbances, as well as to ease the pressure on food supplies in Goma since the violence temporarily cut off many delivery routes.
The agency is moving food stocks to Goma from its office in Bukavu in South Kivu, and bringing in supplies from Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania.
Assisting WFP with the relief effort is the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which will handle distributions to the estimated 65,000 IDPs who are now gathered at Kibati camp, 15 kilometres north of Goma.
The agency reported that a UN assessment mission to Rutshuru was forced to cut short its work on Tuesday when it found itself in close proximity to new clashes around Kiwanja.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has confirmed that three IDP camps in the area were destroyed and emptied, and is trying along with WFP and other agencies to determine what happened to the inhabitants.
“This is a dangerous and unstable environment and it’s going to be challenging to deliver food to where it is needed most. We need proper security in place to ensure everyone involved is safe and that we reach the most vulnerable,” Mr. Darboe said.
WFP added that it is stretched to the limit in DRC, with major new displacement in Orientale province, around Bunia and Dungu, following clashes on two separate fronts in recent weeks. The agency has moved quickly to distribute food to the displaced, but resources are limited and the region extremely difficult to access.