Oxfam appealed to the international community to bring pressure to ensure an immediate end to the fighting, ensure the safety of the people of eastern Congo and create a genuine and lasting peace process.
"We need a major change in the world's political engagement in the conflict in Congo. In the last ten years we have had peace agreements and peacekeeping troops but none have had sufficient, consistent international support. Nearly five and a half million people have died and millions of others have been forced from their homes. The world must stop allowing suffering on this scale to continue," said Juliette Prodhan, head of Oxfam in Congo.
Oxfam is calling for:
- The UN Secretary General to appoint a high-level envoy to travel immediately to the region with the power to bring all those involved to the negotiating table, agree a lasting peace agreement and address the underlying causes of the conflict.
- Additional military support for MONUC to ensure that it can respond effectively to any targeted killing of civilians, mass rape, or systematic looting from any armed group.
- Practical steps to improve the current performance of MONUC in the protection of civilians.
"There is not a military solution to this conflict nor can it be solved simply by providing more troops or military hardware. However, if done properly, additional military support could help improve security, enforce the ceasefire, protect civilians and allow aid agencies to provide help to those that desperately need it," said Prodhan.
MONUC has so far been unable to ensure the peace and effectively protect the people of eastern Congo. Without better leadership and a genuine commitment to address both the immediate crisis and the factors that have created it, even with additional troops MONUC risks achieving very little.
Since August, some 200,000 people have been forced from their homes due to fighting between Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) and the Congolese army. The fighting has intensified around Goma and surrounding areas in recent days forcing thousands more to flee their homes and the camps in which they sought refuge. The fighting has prevented life-saving help being provided to those who need it and humanitarian agencies have been forced to suspend operations in the area.
Oxfam supplies clean water and sanitation to 65,000 people sheltering in four camps around Goma and is preparing for a wider response as soon as humanitarian access is secured. On Thursday, international staff were forced to temporarily relocate out of Goma but national staff remain and measures are in place to maintain water and sanitation in the camps.
For more information contact Rebecca Wynn in Nairobi on +44 7769 887139.
Notes to editors:
1. On 23 January 2008, the Congolese government and 22 armed groups signed the Goma peace agreement, committing to an immediate ceasefire and observance of international human rights law. The Goma Agreement followed the November 2007 agreement between the governments of Congo and Rwanda , known as the Nairobi Communiqué, which sought to address the presence of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Rwandan armed group, in eastern Congo .
2. Even before the recent upsurge of violence, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the worst places in the world to be a civilian. Since 1998, the country has lost 5.4 million people to conflict, and the deadly disease and hunger that it has unleashed. Over a million people are displaced in the eastern part of the country. Rape is endemic. This year more than 1,100 women a month have reported being raped, although the real figure is likely to be much higher.