About 400,000 internally-displaced people (IDPs) in the ROC have returned to their communities as of mid-February, leaving another 410,000 people still displaced in the country, an OCHA report said. The report, received by IRIN on Tuesday, said that this year was off to an "encouraging start" in the Congo, with a ceasefire agreement reached between warring parties, the demobilisation of militia, and improved access for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The 810,000 people, or 30 percent of the country's total population, were displaced by conflict since late 1998, and most had remained unassisted last year due to lack of secure access. Tens of thousands had died of malnutrition and disease, the report stated.
Humanitarian access rapidly expanding
Of the estimated 400,000 returnees, over 250,000 had arrived in the capital Brazzaville, the report said. The remaining IDPs were mainly from rural areas. It said some zones were still out of reach for security reasons, "with the condition of their displaced populations still dire". The UN and its partners were now rapidly expanding humanitarian access, with about one half of the affected interior now reachable, it stated. The UN and NGOs were also moving to provide rehabilitation assistance in communities of return, many of which had been "completely gutted" and left with few or no social services or economic activities.
Funds needed for reintegration and peace-building
In view of the "rapid evolution of events" in the country, the UN system would need to revise its consolidated appeal for the Congo by the middle of the year, UN Humanitarian Coordinator William Paton said on Wednesday. At a UN Headquarters press briefing, Paton said the appeal revision would reflect the increased opportunity to delivery emergency relief and support new needs for reintegration and peace-building. The original appeal for the year 2000 was for some US $20 million. Paton said that displaced persons in the Congo had last year received "the least amount of assistance per capita" compared to the rest of the world because of insecure access and "a lack of international interest", according to a UN account of the press conference received by IRIN.
Meanwhile, the security situation in the country had improved substantially, with no reports of fighting so far this year, the OCHA report said. "The national army has suspended all offensive action as promised in the [ceasefire] accords" signed by some of the warring parties on 16 November and 29 December 1999, it said. Thousands of opposition militia members had already disarmed and were walking into towns to be received by the army, it said. Under the accords, the fittest among the demobilised militia are to be integrated into the army, while the rest are to be assisted to return to civilian life. "Such young men will need to be able to earn a living peacefully if there is to be a lasting peace," the report stated.
Faction leader hands in weapons
Rebel faction leader Frederic Bitsangou of the Conseil National de Resistance last Tuesday ordered his followers to turn in their weapons in accordance with the ceasefire accords, news agencies reported. "The war is over," the Associated Press (AP) quoted Bitsangou as saying. Bitsangou, also known as Jean Ntoumi, released five prisoners of war and turned in seven rifles at Kindamba, some 100 km west of Brazzaville, in a ceremony broadcast on state television, AP said. He was accompanied by about 600 militia members, many of them children, it added.
Kolelas to be tried
Meanwhile, former prime minister Bernard Kolelas is to be tried in absentia for kidnapping, torture, assault and battery, news agencies reported last week. AFP, quoting a judicial source, said on Saturday that the charges stem from complaints filed by Brazzaville residents about the actions of Kolelas-allied militiamen during fighting in 1998/9. Kolelas, who is living in exile in the United States, last month said he recognised President Denis Sassou-Nguesso as the Congolese leader and called for a negotiated solution to the conflict.
Refugees flee DRC conflict
The government last week appealed for international aid for refugees from the DRC who had escaped into northern Congo, news agencies reported. AFP quoted government spokesman Francois Ibovi as saying on 17 February that at least 20,000 people had crossed into the region after fleeing fighting between DRC government and rebel forces in Equateur province. UNHCR on Friday said it had set up an office in Impfondo and was currently providing aid to 10,000-15,000 Congolese refugees scattered along a 400-km stretch of the Oubangui river. But the UN agency had so far been unable to go to Betou where more refugee arrivals had been reported, a spokesman said.
In agreement with the authorities in Brazzaville, the refugees were being hosted by the local population instead of in camps and were supplied with plastic sheeting and other basic items, the UNHCR spokesman said. Most were fishermen and were largely self-sufficient in food, he added. Meanwhile, an ICRC assessment mission to Impfondo last week found only two war-wounded people among the new DRC refugees "on the spot", an ICRC statement said on 17 February.
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