DR Congo

Grands Lacs: JRS statement on the crisis in the North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of Congo

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Increase protection and allow safe passage to humanitarian aid to civilians

At an African Union summit in Nairobi today, several representatives of heads of African states will meet to discuss possible solutions to the crisis in the DRC. JRS, witnessing the unfolding tragedy in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, pleads with the international community to:

- enable the UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC) to efficiently protect civilians by reinforcing their troop numbers and clarifying their mandate

- ensure the safe arrival of food and other essential items

- tackle the underlying issues of the conflict including the illegal exploitation of Congo's resources

"We are witnessing another humanitarian catastrophe in North Kivu unfold. Hundreds of thousands of women, children and men continue to flee fighting. Throughout the province, people are in urgent need of food, shelter, clean water and medical supply. Due to the volatile security situation, many are out of reach of aid agencies" reads the latest message from the JRS Goma team in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

A culture of anarchy and impunity has long taken root in eastern DRC, and civilians have been the principal victims. Although the renewed attention and the increased diplomatic efforts of the last few days is to be welcomed, JRS urges the international community reinforce UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC) and clarify its mandate. This is a crucial in order to bring this war in North Kivu to an end. Better equipped and additional troops are non-negotiable issues for the Congolese. If they are not provided, it is a clear green light to the combatants.

According to JRS sources in nearby Rutshuru area in the last few days, armed men have been killing civilians house by house in Kiwanja, 80 km from Goma. Thousands of people are currently in hiding in the forest. Unfortunately this is yet another example of the inability of the current MONUC contingent to prevent atrocities of this nature. Or as an unnamed MONUC source told JRS: "We are sorry, but our hands are tied".

A lack of the most essential supplies has brought the North Kivu to the brink of a humanitarian disaster. During this rainy season, thousands of people are sleeping rough. As well as shelter, the lack of food is a major concern. In the last week, JRS has met women and children who had not eaten for more than seven days and MSF reported 69 cholera cases in four camps in west of Goma.

JRS fears that diplomatic efforts without concrete action will amount to nothing. Now, more than ever, the international community must understand that the problems of the war in Congo, political as well economic, cannot be resolved by national actors alone. In order to bring about sustainable peace, the complexity of the conflict has to be tackled. A bold and transparent debate about regional and international interests in Congo's vast resources is urgent. Only real leadership and concrete action will put an end to this suffering. We hope and pray that, at this stage, our political leaders rise to the occasion.

Since January 2008, JRS has managed primary and secondary education projects in North Kivu, skills training and support to vulnerable displaced people in Rutshuru and the IDP camps on the outskirts of Goma.

Contact information: James Stapleton, International Communications Coordinator; tel: +39 06 68 977390; +39 346 234 3841