DR Congo

Eastern Congo: World Vision staff evacuate to Rwanda as rebels advance on Goma

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World Vision calling for immediate ceasefire and safe access to displaced civilians

Agency to monitor and support humanitarian needs from Rwanda until calm restored

Goma, Eastern DRC, October 29, 2008 -The World Vision office in Goma has initiated rapid staff evacuations into Rwanda amidst the rapidly deteriorating security conditions in Congo's eastern provincial capital. With this week's renewed fighting seriously exacerbating an already desperate humanitarian situation, the international aid agency is calling for an immediate ceasefire and secure access for aid workers to reach displaced children and families.

World Vision's Emergency Communications Advisor Michael Arunga reports from the calm but crowded Rwandan border that a group of eight international World Vision staff have arrived there safely after a high-speed drive from Goma tonight. Another dozen or so World Vision Congolese staff have returned to their families in Goma.

"We heard sounds of gunfire and witnessed scenes of panic near World Vision's Goma office, not long after the United Nation's OCHA issued an advisory this morning on the growing insecurity in Goma," Arunga added.

In addition, some 18 World Vision staff in Rutshuru-a town about 70 km (44 miles) north of Goma that was overrun by rebels yesterday-are currently being sheltered in a local compound of the UN peacekeeping force MONUC, after plans to evacuate them from the town failed yesterday.

Heavy fighting is being reported within about 6 miles of Goma, with small arms fire along one of two main roads leading out of town. Reports say that rebel forces are advancing on Goma and threatening to overwhelm government troops and a 17,000-strong UN force deployed to halt a return to all-out war.

"We were forced to evacuate given the mounting dangers posed to our staff on the ground," explained Dr. Wilfred Mlay, World Vision's Africa vice president, "But we remain very concerned about the humanitarian crisis faced by people in Goma and Rutshuru. We call on the international community to do all it can to ensure their safety, along with an immediate ceasefire that will allow full access to civilians by humanitarian agencies, including World Vision."

"We will not abandon the critical needs in eastern Congo," said Dr. Omo Olupona, World Vision's southern Africa area director, "We expect to set up an operational base inside Rwanda, from where we will continue to monitor the crisis and support those in need of help."

The Christian humanitarian agency is calling for the following actions to be taken:

- That all parties concerned immediately cease all hostilities and establish a humanitarian corridor to enable access by aid workers to those in need.

- Given that many humanitarian workers have now been forced to relocate and/or evacuate, that the international community, led by the UN, immediately develop a plan to address the current humanitarian crisis resulting from the latest displacements-in addition to the ongoing humanitarian needs.

- That the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUC) prioritize the protection of civilians-particularly women and children, who make up more than half of the 1.2 million displaced people-and create a secure environment for aid workers to resume operations.

- That the UN Secretary General immediately appoint a high-level mediator whose work would lead to a lasting and meaningful peace process. The international community, in particular the US and EU countries, should fully support the efforts of a UN-appointed mediator, providing the required diplomatic support.

- That the governments of DRC and Rwanda immediately begin genuine bilateral negotiations toward a lasting solution of the crisis, including addressing the historical root causes that have perpetuated the conflict.

- That the governments of the Tripartite Plus Forum, supported by the UN, the US and other governments with influence in the region, urgently convene a meeting to discuss wider regional dimensions of this crisis-and keep their borders open to refugees fleeing the current fighting, in particular Rwanda and Zambia.

World Vision began working in eastern DRC in 1993. Recent programs have focused on child protection, water and sanitation, nutrition and supplementary feeding, Separated and Abandoned Children (SAC), food security and agriculture, HIV and AIDS, and school rehabilitation.

Interviews can be arranged with World Vision staff on the scene as well as World Vision policy experts. High-quality digital photos are available. Please contact Rachel Wolff at 253.394.2214 or rwolff@worldvision.org.

World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. We serve all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender. For more information, please visit worldvision.org/press.