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North Congo needs protection one year after Christmas massacres

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Caritas says that the political will is lacking to protect communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo and calls on the Congolese Government, the UN and the international community to make people's safety from rebel attacks a priority.

Almost one year after Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels massacred 620 people in communities celebrating Christmas in the north Congo, people still live in fear of being maimed, killed or raped at the hands of rebels.

"Communities still lack protection, food and healthcare one year on. The government and the international community need to act now to ensure their safety and to bring peace to the region," says Bruno Miteyo, director of the national Caritas in the Congo.

The unrest which affects northern Congo is part of regional instability which needs to be addressed. Caritas says that regional transparency and coordination are essential for creating a climate of accountability and for tackling impunity.

"The leaders of the Congo, Uganda, Sudan and Rwanda need to sit down at the negotiating table to find a lasting peace. Furthermore, the international community needs to do its utmost to stop arms from entering the region," says Mr Miteyo.

The mandate of the UN force in Congo (MONUC) is up for renewal this month. Debate surrounds whether to renew the $1350 million (budget from July 2008 to June 2009) peacekeeping force just six months rather than one year with a view to disengagement.

MONUC, the UN peacekeeping force with more than 20,000 staff in the Congo, has been operating for ten years and has cost billions of dollars, but it hasn't been effective in protecting the civilian population. Congolese communities are desperate for basic human security. As the Security Council discusses mandate renewal this month, Caritas calls for urgent reform in safeguarding the lives of civilians in the Congo.

Any peacekeeping force should also play an essential part in training local police forces to maintain calm and protect communities.

The constant insecurity in the north Congo makes access to even the most basic goods and services difficult for communities. Caritas wants governments to guarantee an aid corridor between the north Congo and neighbouring countries to ensure the delivery of food and other essential items.

Caritas launched a new US$12.5 (8.5 million euro) emergency programme for the north and eastern Congo in June this year. The programme has been providing over 230,000 people with items such as blankets, clothes, farming tools and hygiene products. The programme has also focused on improving education and hygiene condition and on providing psychological help to the victims of violence.

For more information, please contact Michelle Hough on +39 06 69879721/+39 334 2344136 or hough@caritas.va