DR Congo

UN humanitarian wing expresses concern over conflict-torn eastern DR Congo

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The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today voiced its concern over the situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where many more people have been displaced following a recent upsurge in fighting between Government and rebel forces.

An estimated 250,000 Congolese have been made homeless since August because of the fighting - centred in North Kivu province, near the border with Rwanda and Uganda - between DRC defence forces (FARDC) and the militia known as the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), led by former general Laurent Nkunda.

OCHA said the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in North Kivu province is 850,000, many of whom have already been displaced previously. With the situation changing constantly, it emphasized that figures regarding the displaced are only estimates.Many more could be on the way from areas further north that have been affected by the fighting in recent days

Shelter, food, water and sanitation, health and protection are the key needs identified by OCHA, which along with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), has launched rapid response measures to address immediate needs. Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is monitoring the situation regarding the need for food.

Combat is impeding access to the vulnerable for relief workers, who also face intimidation and vehicle hijacking.

The UN refugee agency said it is struggling to prepare for the arrival in North Kivu's capital Goma of some 30,000 IDPs forced to flee recent heavy fighting.

To get ready for a possible influx of the IDPs, a team from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) traveled yesterday to Kibati camp, north of Goma, which already shelters 15,000 others.

Tens of thousands are believed to be escaping southward from conflict, according to agency spokesperson Ron Redmond.

"Many more could be on the way from areas further north that have been affected by the fighting in recent days," he told reporters, with fighting reported near Rutshuru, 100 kilometres north of Goma, where another UNHCR office is situated.

In the capital, agency staff characterized the situation as tense after demonstrations on Sunday reportedly left five people dead.

Aid agencies put the total number of IDPs in North Kivu at close to 1 million, and UNHCR is assisting 100,000 of them in 16 sites.

Yesterday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his deep concern at the deteriorating security situation in the DRC's far east, where rebels have fired rockets at UN peacekeepers.

"The Secretary-General urges the Government and provincial authorities to make every effort to restore calm among the affected populations and to work in close cooperation with MONUC [the UN mission in the country]," according to a statement issued by Mr. Ban's spokesperson that also called for an immediate end to the fighting.

"He reaffirms that MONUC will take all necessary measures within its mandate to protect civilians and United Nations personnel and property."

Mr. Ban noted that the most recent clashes in the ongoing hostilities between the FARDC and the CNDP, which he denounced as a violation of the ceasefire the two sides signed earlier this year, were having a particularly severe impact on civilians.

He also joined MONUC in condemning the deliberate attack near Kalenga by the CNDP on UN blue helmets. The rebels fired five rockets on two tanks that were part of a convoy attempting to ensure the safety of civilians in the Goma-Rutshuru area.