New fighting in eastern DR Congo sends more civilians fleeing in panic, UN reports

25 November 2008

Rebels in the strife-torn eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) launched new military attacks today under the cover of a so-called police and pacification operation, breaking the ceasefire and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis, the United Nations mission reported today.

“This fighting has sown panic among civilians who are once more in headlong flight along the highways in search of safety,” the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known by its French acronym MONUC, said of the attacks by the rebel Congress in Defence of the People (CNDP) against the Mayi Mayi militia in the Kinyando and Nkwenda area of North Kivu province.

“MONUC categorically condemns this actions initiated by CNDP and urgently demands that it comply without conditions with the ceasefire and stop exacerbating further the suffering of the population,” the mission added in a communiqué, referring to the truce that the CNDP first initiated at the end of October. Sporadic fighting has erupted since then.

The mission reported that Government forces had pillaged Bulotwa village, north of Goma, the provincial capital. “MONUC also condemns these acts by units of FARDC,” it said. “It calls on the relevant military authorities to apply the full rigours of the law against the perpetrators in conformity with the pledges they have made.”

Escalating conflict between the army and 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.

Last week, the Security Council authorized a temporary increase of more than 3,000 UN peacekeepers, over and above the nearly 18,000 already in the vast country, to deal with the violence. MONUC is continuing to patrol the separation zones between the combatants.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency was set to begin moving displaced civilians from the camps in which they were staying at Kibati to more secure locations away from the violence. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has voiced its growing concern for the safety of nearly 70,000 IDPs taking shelter in camps outside Goma.

Last week a 20-year-old woman was shot and killed at one of the Kibati camps, and several families were forced to flee their huts, which were then looted by armed men. Tens of thousands of displaced Congolese civilians in the Kibati camps are in a dangerous situation as the warring parties remain in close proximity, according to UNHCR.

The voluntary relocation drive could affect as many as 30,000 people and will focus on vulnerable persons, children, the sick and the elderly. They will be relocated to camps where shelter and sanitation and other services are already available.

UNHCR spokesman William Spindler noted that MONUC personnel will be positioned along the 15-kilometre bypass to the new site to ensure security. He also welcomed yesterday’s decision by MONUC to start, as soon as possible, regular night patrols in and around the Kibati camps, following last week’s shooting.

“MONUC’s decision will increase the security of the displaced Congolese civilians sheltered there and will help to restore the civilian character of the site,” he told a news briefing in Geneva. “We also hope that this move will help combat the rising number of sexual assaults and raids by armed men, extortion and looting by soldiers.”

UNHCR is also preparing 5,000 kits for emergency distribution to the 65,000 IDPs currently sheltered at Kibati. These family kits include a kitchen set, blankets, sleeping mats, jerry cans, plastic sheeting, mosquito nets and a bag for carrying these items. Each kit is for a family of five, so the kits will benefit a total of 25,000 people.

Also in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session on the situation in eastern DRC on Friday.

Yesterday the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the eastern DRC, Olusegun Obasanjo, told reporters in New York that he will be returning to the region this weekend to resume talks with the Congolese Government, the CNDP and other key actors.

Mr. Obasanjo, a former president of Nigeria, is expected to visit the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, on Saturday and Goma on Sunday, with other regional stops along the way.


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