The assessment mission, comprising officials from OCHA, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, the World Health Organisation, and the NGO Medair, made the recommendation on Wednesday after evaluating humanitarian conditions and needs in the areas of health, food security and internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the Mambasa-Beni axis and in the Mambasa and Mandima areas.
A report compiled at the end of the assessment said areas of North Kivu Province had been subject to massive population displacements since August 2002. Mambasa changed hands twice between October and December 2002 in a series of armed clashes between forces of the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-Kisangani/Mouvement de liberation (RCD-Kis/ML) and those of the Mouvement de liberation du Congo/RCD-National alliance.
"These clashes subjected the civilian population in Mambasa and in the northern parts of the Beni-Mambasa axis to widespread looting and property destruction. Reported cases of alleged cannibalism were accompanied by rapes, and forced removal of civilians for the transportation of supplies and looted goods. Insecurity and armed clashes led to large population movements from Mambasa, Komanda and Erengeti towards Oicha, Mangina, and Beni," the team reported.
"The deployment of a second MILOBS [military observers] team on the other side of the Ituri river would verify and maybe prevent current rumours of troop movements and imminent battles from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. While also encouraging a much-needed return of IDPs to their homes, the second team's deployment would remove current excuses used for not demilitarising Mambasa," the team said in its report.
The military observers, if based on the RCD-Kis/ML side of the front line, would patrol the current 40-km buffer zone between the opposing sides and the planned neutral zone in Mambasa, the team said.
The inter-agency mission urged humanitarian actors with health sector programmes to assist by supplying material such as laboratory equipment, drugs, beds and repairs to the destroyed health infrastructure. The team said the health facilities in Mambasa were "woefully understaffed and unequipped following looting and flight of personnel".
Regarding farming activities, the team said there was need for distribution of farming inputs and other equipment that would assist in restarting farming and help in reintegrating returning IDPs.
The inter-agency mission estimated that three-quarters of the original population had been displaced in the Mambasa and Mandima areas.
"All intervention geared to assist the most vulnerable groups, especially the pygmies, should be delivered in a manner integrated into existing social and humanitarian programmes, so as to avoid further exclusion and marginalisation," the assessment mission said, adding that humanitarian actors should coordinate their interventions "through OCHA thematic consultation groups in order to avoid geographic and sectoral duplications".
The team said the UN had the trust of the local population, which believed that the UN was playing a positive role in the area. "Indeed, on the road taken to and from the assessment areas, the civilian population clapped at the sight of the mission's UN vehicles. UN agencies in the region should build on this goodwill and help meet popular expectations that it will assist in the stabilisation of the region."
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