The top United Nations humanitarian official today ended a five-day to areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) that have witnessed some of the worst atrocities against civilians, stressing the vital need that UN peacekeepers remain beyond the August 2011 deadline set by the Government.
“The situation in the DRC remains complex, and the humanitarian needs very high, with grave protection concerns continuing to affect people in the eastern, north-eastern and north-western parts of the country, causing large-scale suffering to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said.
Fresh from visits to the strife-torn Kivu provinces in the east, Orientale Province where he denounced “horrific” atrocities committed by the notorious Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), and north-western Equateur Province where he condemned the decapitation and other brutal killings of civilians in inter-communal strife, Mr. Holmes today stressed to President Joseph Kabila the need for the continued presence of the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC).
In a report to the Security Council last month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the UN disagreed with the Government’s proposed date of August 2011 for the withdrawal of the 11-year-old force, which has helped restore a measure of stability and democratic process to a country torn apart by years of civil war and revolts that led to the greatest death toll since World War II – 4 million people killed by fighting and the attendant starvation and disease.
“In many areas, MONUC is a deterrent against those who terrorize and attack civilians and humanitarian actors alike and their support, especially in Orientale Province and Equateur province, but also in the Kivus, is very important for the continued delivery of life-saving assistance to those in need,” Mr. Holmes said today in Kinshasa, the capital.
“I am confident that cooperation between the Government and the United Nations in this domain will continue,” he added, stressing to Mr. Kabila and Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito that the humanitarian needs in the DRC remained considerable. “We are committed to respond to the acute needs of the population, but we also need to tackle the underlying root causes.”
He also emphasized the importance, for the sake of protecting civilians, of accelerated security sector reform because of the continuing humanitarian consequences of abuses by the Government’s armed forces themselves.
Yesterday Mr. Holmes visited the town of Dongo in Equateur province which was attacked in October when inter-communal violence in long-standing disputes over fishing and farming rights intensified into an armed insurgency, with 200,000 people driven from their homes, mostly seeking refuge in the neighbouring Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic (CAR).
“I was particularly distressed by accounts of how local inhabitants suffered at the hands of armed individuals,” he said. “The attackers showed utter disregard for civilians. Many were decapitated or otherwise brutally killed, while parts of the town were looted and burned.”
A day earlier he was in Orientale province, near the border with Sudan and CAR, and where more than 300 civilians were reportedly killed in December in one of the LRA’s worst recent massacres. Another 250 people, including at least 80 children, were kidnapped in the same attack. In the town of Niangara he heard first-hand accounts from survivors, including one woman whose lips and ear had been torn off two days earlier in a typically barbaric and inexplicable attack.
And the day before that he was in the Kivus, where some 1.4 million people have been internally displaced by fighting between the national army and the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), as well by local armed militias and bandits.
As well as conferring with Government leaders in Kinshasa today, Mr. Holmes also met with representatives of donor countries. The UN and its partners have requested $828 million for humanitarian action this year, 27 per cent of which has been received so far. In 2009, out of a requested $946 million, $686 million was received.
“We are trying to help people survive and, to the extent possible, live a dignified life,” he said. “I hope that donors will continue to be generous in helping us achieve this, because of the extent of the continuing needs.”