DR Congo

Thousands flee fighting in eastern DR Congo

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Tens of thousands have fled their homes around the eastern Congolese city of Goma as fighting between rebels and government forces intensifies.

The current wave of violence highlights the complex nature of the conflict in eastern DRC; each blaming one another for the recent escalation of violence.

Laurent Nkunda, a renegade general of the Congolese Army and leader of the National Congress for the Defence of the Peoples (CNDP) accuses the Congolese Government army of not following through with commitments made in the peace agreement signed in January this year. (link to piece on the peace deal?)

Nkunda claims the Government has never made serious attempts to disarm the FDLR, a group of Hutu rebels blamed for Rwanda's genocide and accused of committing grave human rights abuses in DRC.

Nkunda claims that he is defending the Tutsi population in Congo. Conversely, the Congolese Government accuses Nkunda of trying to provoke a regional conflict.

Added to the volatile mix, neighbouring Rwanda also accuses the Congolese army of collaborating with the Hutu FDLR rebels. Conversely, the Congolese Government accuses Rwanda of backing Nkunda. Allegations of cross border shootings have already been reported, but are denied by both sides.

As always, it is the civilians of North Kivu that bear the brunt of the fighting. There has been conflict in these parts since the 1990's and the 20,000 people who have fled their homes in the past few days have added to the total of 1.5 million already displaced.

Congo is one of the most resource-rich countries in the world, but is also among the poorest in terms of human development. The most recent fighting is the latest permutation of tensions simmering since the Rwandan genocide.

It is also inextricably linked to the lucrative mineral resources available throughout the eastern provinces of DRC. The epicentre of the conflict are the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu - precisely the area of abundant natural resources, with each rebel group vying to maintain control over this wealth.

Mining companies have been accused of fuelling the conflict through international trade in minerals from this war torn region. The National Conference of Bishops of the Democratic Republic of Congo (CENCO) has gone so far as to suggest that "these recurring wars in the east and north-east regions become a smoke-shield to cover-up the pillaging of natural resources"

This exploitative situation that brings death, displacement and terror to communities, is supported - if not propagated by the International mining companies who purchase these minerals.

Today, as Nkunda's rebels advance closer and closer towards Goma, the Peace agreement that was signed in January, supported by the UN, EU and US amongst others, is in tatters.

Trócaire is working with local and national non-governmental organisations as well as church structures to address the multi-faceted nature of the humanitarian and development needs in the DRC.

Trócaire will respond to this current crisis by addressing the needs of the displaced communities and by joining the international calls for urgent action by the signatories of the peace agreements, specifically EU Member States, to make decisive efforts to rescue this situation and get the peace process back on track.

No less than the stability of the whole Central African region hangs in the balance.