Encouraging dialogue between the Congolese Government and rebels is critical to securing peace in the war-torn far east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the crisis and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo said today.
Escalating conflict between Government forces (FARDC) and a rebel militia known as the Congress in Defence of the People (CNDP) has uprooted an estimated 250,000 people in the past three months, mainly in North Kivu province, which borders Rwanda. Other armed groups, including the Mayi Mayi, have also been involved in deadly clashes, some of which have been along ethnic lines.
In recent weeks, Mr. Obasanjo has held talks with DRC President Joseph Kabila, renegade general and CNDP head Laurent Nkunda and regional leaders.
“All of them support the effort we are making now, but they also underlined the need to maintain the momentum,” he told reporters in New York.
In his meeting with the rebel leader, he said Mr. Nkunda expressed three key requests: convening a dialogue with the Government, the protection of minorities, and the safe reintegration of his forces with FARDC. The rebel leader also assured the Envoy of a safe humanitarian corridor to help those in need.
“My impression is that he has made demands that I do not consider outrageous,” the Envoy said, adding that DRC authorities are not “averse” to entering into talks with Mr. Nkunda.
The former president characterized his first round of his diplomatic efforts as “fairly good.” In the next phase, he and his co-facilitator, the former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, will focus on facilitating dialogue between the Government and the CNDP “because we believe that once they are talking, the chances of reversing the ceasefire will be reduced.”
Last week, the Security Council authorized a temporary increase of more than 3,000 blue helmets serving with the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, known by its French acronym MONUC, to deal with the violence in the country’s east.
The extra 2,785 troops and 300 police officers will buttress the 17,000 uniformed personnel already serving with the mission, the largest UN force worldwide but one faced with the task of quelling unrest and protecting civilians in one of Africa’s largest countries.
MONUC today reported that the overall situation in North Kivu remains tense, but that the latest ceasefire agreement appears to be holding.
Humanitarian agencies are using the respite in fighting to increase their relief operations in North and South Kivu provinces.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has brought in 100 tons of food to distribute in Rutshuru, north of North Kivu’s capital Goma.
For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has started registering displaced children for school in camps in Kibati, and has distributed schools supplies for nearly 1,000 students, some of whom have been uprooted by the violence.
The agency has also set up a “catch-up” scheme to help displaced schoolchildren who have missed out on their educations because of conflict in Mugunga camp, near Goma.
In a related development, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a new report that although the recruitment and use of children by the parties to the conflict in the DRC have declined, he remains concerned about the estimated 3,500 children remaining with the armed forces and rebel groups in the vast African nation.
“Although FARDC have reportedly stopped recruiting children, documented cases indicate that children are still present,” he writes, adding that a majority of the current violations can be attributed to Mayi Mayi groups, militias and foreign armed elements.
Renewed fighting in the east in September and October of this year has led to a resurgence of violations against children, who are “still the primary victims of the ongoing conflict in affected areas,” Mr. Ban says.
Voicing his continued deep concern over sexual violence against boys and girls, he urged the Government to make adopting a national strategy to prevent, respond to and combat the scourge a top priority.