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Press conference on developments in Democratic Republic of Congo

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The United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) was performing well under extreme conditions, as efforts were under way to reinforce its positions in the eastern part of the country in the wake of a rebel advance there, Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

In an update on the humanitarian and political crisis, conducted by video link from Goma, Mr. Le Roy -- who arrived in the beleaguered city earlier today -- was joined by Alan Doss, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ross Mountain, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the country and the Resident Humanitarian Coordinator there.

The ceasefire announced by Laurent Nkunda, the leader of the Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP), the rebel group that had made the advance, was holding, Mr. Doss said, and the city of Goma was relatively calm, following violence and looting. MONUC troops were patrolling the city night and day and helping to enforce a curfew. Today, the Mission had opened up a humanitarian corridor to assist internally displaced persons and other civilians outside the urban area.

The United Nations, Mr. Le Roy added, was also very involved in the political process, and it was expected that in the coming days there would be a summit between the Presidents of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, and that a special envoy for the peace process in the east would be appointed. He also expected that General Babacar Gaye of Senegal, the former MONUC Force Commander, would probably be back on the job in the next few days, following the resignation of his successor.

The MONUC convoy that opened up the corridor today as far as the town of Rutshuru, which was taken by the rebels, had assessed the humanitarian situation and had also brought basic supplies for people behind the rebel lines, Mr. Mountain said. He stressed that the number one priority now, however, was the protection of civilians, for which MONUC was stationed in 34 separate places in North Kivu Province, in which Goma was located.

In addition, he said that the maintenance of the ceasefire was of absolute importance and that required political progress. Humanitarian actors could not "do it all". Safe access was not only needed to assist those outside the city, but also to get supplies into Goma, which had a population of 700,000. He said that $55 million had been requested for basic humanitarian necessities, such as food and drinking water.

Asked about reports that MONUC had failed in fulfilling its mandate in eastern Congo, all three officials strongly defended the Mission's performance, while stressing that they were discussing how to strengthen its capabilities in the Goma area by shifting existing resources, since assistance from elsewhere was not forthcoming.

Mr. Le Roy said that the President and Vice-President of the country and the Governor of North Kivu had praised MONUC's work in limiting the advance of CNDP, as well as its humanitarian consequences. Of course, they would all like it to do more, and that was why the Mission was being reinforced.

He reminded reporters of the huge dimensions of the task -- the vastness of the country, the number of internally displaced persons and the large variety of armed groups -- comparing the peacekeeping force of 17,000 to the 40,000 troops that had been available in Kosovo, an area 200 times smaller. MONUC had indeed held forward positions, provided protection to civilians and supported the peace process, Mr. Mountain added, even though during the offensive it had not had the hoped for support from the National Armed Forces or FARDC (the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo).

Asked if it was true that Uruguayan troops had fled the rebels, Mr. Doss said no, they had been asked to redeploy when they came under cross fire from FARDC behind them and CNDP rebels in front of them. All battalions -- whether Indian, South African, Pakistani, Uruguayan, Senegalese or others had done what had been asked of them. Of course, there could always be improvement.

He emphasized that the Mission had also exercised the "robustness" in the use of force that had been authorized by the Security Council to protect civilians, with two or three notable encounters.

In regard to reported instances of collaboration between FARDC and the Hutu rebel group known as the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), Mr. Le Roy said he had raised the issue with the Congolese authorities, who had made a clear commitment to oppose it, as well as CNDP, which is a Tutsi group.

Asked about the extent of cross-border fighting with Rwanda, Mr. Doss said that it had consisted of artillery or tank fire from Rwanda and was only reported in one area near the Kibumbu camp for internally displaced persons. If it was tanks, the vehicles had not crossed the border, according to MONUC military observers.

He stressed, however, that the ceasefire was fragile. The political process must stabilize the situation and go beyond it. The disengagement plan, which had been in process during the past few months, would have helped such progress. Dialogue now must lead to an agreement that gave space for the political process. It was also crucial to disarm all the armed groups and rebuild the Congolese State so it could protect its people.

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