African leaders meeting at a United Nations-backed summit in Nairobi have urged an immediate ceasefire in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the recent crisis can get the assistance they need.
Fighting in the eastern province of North Kivu between Government forces (FARDC) and the National Congress in Defence of the People (known as the CNDP), a militia led by former general Laurent Nkunda, has displaced as many as 252,000 Congolese in recent months.
Today's summit, hosted by the African Union (AU), brought together DRC President Joseph Kabila and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, which borders North Kivu, as well as the leaders of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and South Africa.
In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the heads of State called for “an immediate ceasefire by all the armed men and militia in North Kivu.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – who attended the summit along with his newly-appointed Special Envoy Olusegun Obasanjo and his Special Representative in the DRC, Alan Doss – made a similar call, urging all the militias to stop the fighting and resolve their issues through dialogue. “They must think about the future of their own country and people in the region,” he told reporters after the meeting.
He also highlighted the need to deal with the “armed group challenge” in order to end the crisis in the DRC, in his address to the summit earlier today.
“For far too long, peace and security in your region has been threatened by armed groups, domestic and foreign, present on the soil of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They have been operating from there with impunity, aggravating strains between your countries and between your peoples,” he told the gathering.
In their joint statement, the heads of State also called for setting up a humanitarian corridor throughout North Kivu so that the “humanitarian crisis and tragedy” can be addressed. They also called on the UN and all humanitarian agencies assisting those affected to “continue to sustain and increase their support.”
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today that the total number of displaced in North Kivu since September is estimated to be 252,000 people, on top of the existing 800,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from previous hostilities.
Today's meeting also called on Mr. Ban to strengthen the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC, known as MONUC, and provide adequate resources to address the volatile situation.
The 17,000-strong MONUC has been stretched to the limit in recent weeks trying to carry out its mandate to protect civilians amid the violence. Mr. Ban has requested the Security Council to authorize another 3,000 troops to boost the mission's strength on the ground.
Even as the summit was taking place, there were reports of heavy clashes between FARDC and CNDP in Kibati, which is about nine kilometres north of the North Kivu capital of Goma, leading to further displacements.
Meanwhile, a preliminary fact-finding mission from MONUC visited Kiwanja, which is north of the town of Rutshuru, after receiving reports that several civilians were killed there during and after fighting between CNDP and PARECO/Mayi Mayi militia earlier this week.
“It is clear that serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law were committed in Kiwanja between 4 and 6 November,” the mission said in a news release, adding that a more thorough investigation is required.