Aid workers with Trócaire's partner organisation, Caritas, are in Goma providing emergency assistance, including shelter and relief materials, to some 15,000 displaced families . They say that the exodus of people fleeing their villages due to renewed conflict has swelled the population of that city from 500,000 to over 700,000 in the past week alone.
Niall O'Keeffe, regional manager for Central and West Africa with Trócaire, is working on the relief effort in DRC. He pointed out that while roots of the current fighting are extremely complex, the violence is inextricably linked to mineral deposits. "The spoils of the mineral wealth of the DRC have, for many years, been hijacked by various rebel groups - and even government troops - and exploited by vast multinational mining companies," he said.
"Despite a renewed peace agreement in January 2008, violence between rebel groups, militia and government troops flares regularly, with civilians bearing the brunt. Hundreds have been killed in fighting this year and more than 2000 cases of rape were uncovered in the provinces around Goma in June of this year alone. The use of rape in DRC is endemic by armed forces to gain territorial control through displacement and establishing a stranglehold of fear over villages," he said.
Mr O'Keeffe said the largest United Nations peacekeeping presence in the world - 17,000 troops - is in DRC. The troops have a wide-ranging mandate, including the protection of Congolese civilians and facilitation of the delivery of humanitarian assistance. "But to be effective, the UN troops and the Congolese government must prioritise the protection of civilians and urgently improve humanitarian access to those displaced from their homes," he added.
He said the European Union has a major role to play in the flailing peace process, having been at the table when January's peace deal was signed. Ireland and EU Member States must demand the immediate cessation of fighting and reinforce their support and commitment to the Goma peace agreement," he concluded.