Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today expressed deep concern at the deteriorating security situation in the far east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where thousands of civilians have fled their homes because of fresh fighting and rebels have fired rockets at United Nations peacekeepers.
"The Secretary-General urges the Government and provincial authorities to make every effort to restore calm among the affected populations and to work in close cooperation with MONUC [the UN peacekeeping force]," according to a statement issued by Mr. Ban's spokesperson that also called for an immediate end to the fighting.
"He reaffirms that MONUC will take all necessary measures within its mandate to protect civilians and United Nations personnel and property."
An estimated 250,000 Congolese have been made homeless since August because of the fighting - centred in North Kivu province, near the border with Rwanda and Uganda - between DRC defence forces (FARDC) and the militia known as the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), led by former general Laurent Nkunda.
The newly homeless join another 850,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) already registered in North Kivu before the latest round of fighting erupted, and local authorities and aid agencies are struggling to provide enough food, shelter, water, sanitation and health care to meet their needs.
Mr. Ban's statement noted that the most recent clashes in the ongoing hostilities between the FARDC and the CNDP, which he denounced as a violation of the ceasefire the two sides signed earlier this year, were having a particularly severe impact on civilians.
He also joined MONUC in condemning the deliberate attack near Kalenga by the CNDP on UN blue helmets. The rebels fired five rockets on two tanks that were part of a convoy attempting to ensure the safety of civilians in the Goma-Rutshuru area.
The mission said in its own statement that many IDPs are now arriving in Goma, the provincial capital, to escape the violence.
MONUC, currently the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world, is using its helicopters to support the Congolese armed forces as they fight the CNDP near Kibumba, which is located about 20 kilometres north of Goma.
"MONUC reiterates that under its mandate it will continue to intervene with all of its means to assure the protection of civilians and to protect the urban centres of North Kivu," the statement stressed.
In Goma, hundreds of demonstrators today hurled projectiles against UN installations and vehicles, destroying some equipment belonging to the world body.
Congolese national police and UN blue helmets worked together to prevent the protesters from entering MONUC facilities, and during the clashes a demonstrator was killed.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) have launched a rapid response mechanism to help meet the emergency needs of locals in North Kivu, but overall access for aid workers remains extremely restricted because of the fighting.
Angry demonstrators, roadblocks, the intimidation of humanitarian workers and the hijacking of their vehicles are combining to make it more difficult for the staff to conduct their work, OCHA said. The warring parties are also looting civilian infrastructure, including health-care centres.
The civilian suffering and displacement is not confined to North Kivu. To the north in Orientale province, an estimated 28,000 people have been made homeless in recent weeks because they have been fleeing attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), an Ugandan rebel group that sometimes operates in the northeast of the DRC. Many of the civilians have moved to neighbouring southern Sudan in a bid to avoid the fighting.
Meanwhile, MONUC's Force Commander, Lieutenant General Vicente Diaz de Villegas y Herrería of Spain, has indicated he is stepping down from his post for personal reasons. While the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is finding a successor, Brigadier General Ishmeel Ben Quartey of Ghana will serve as Acting Force Commander.