- The New York-based humanitarian agency, Refugees International (RI), today issued a statement, expressing concern about increasing security for civilians of Congo Kinshasa (DRC). The group described security as the most pressing humanitarian priority in Congo.
RI's statement called on international community and the Congolese government to end violence and concentrate on rehabilitating the Congolese armed forces, expand the UN peacekeeping force as well as enforce an existing embargo on arms and natural resources in the country.
The Kinshasa government was asked to concretise steps to improve humanitarian assistance, funding and coordination after holding its presidential runoff election on 29 October.
"There is a real sense of hope that things are getting better in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The elections are moving forward, fighting has slowed down in the east, and refugees are starting to return home," said RI's Rick Neal, who described the process as long and that "now is not the time to turn our backs and walk away. Doubling our efforts at this crucial moment will have a tremendous impact towards ensuring that the Congolese people have the food, shelter and security they need to get home and restart their lives."
Most parts of Congo Kinshasa have enjoyed peace mainly because of the expansion of the UN peacekeeping force, withdrawal of foreign troops and the formation of a transitional government in July 2003.
More than 70 percent of the Congolese electorate voted in the country's first democratic presidential elections in four decades. But RI wondered why "pockets of extreme insecurity and acute need persist". The humanitarian body recommended that the new Congolese army be strengthened by giving troops a living wage, improve training, and hold soldiers and their superiors accountable to human rights abuses, especially rape, which was described as cancer in the Congo.
"Although the new Congolese national army has committed serious human rights abuses, peace and stability will not arrive in the Congo until the army changes - and it will not change by itself," Mr Neal reasoned. "Rehabilitating the army and authorizing a short-term expansion of the UN peacekeeping mission will help resolve the humanitarian crisis and bring peace to the DRC."
The report also asked for the expansion of the UN peacekeeping mission by four additional battalions to protect civilians, deter fighters and enforce an embargo on the transfer of weapons and natural resources that the UN first imposed in 2003. "Rwanda and Uganda must also prevent the flow of arms and natural resources across their borders and be held accountable for violations of the embargo," he added.
The president of Refugee International, Ken Bacon believes that elections alone would not solve Congo's problems, as the ongoing flow of weapons into the country continued and the inability of aid agencies to reach people in need. Mr Bacon said reducing the number of UN peacekeepers in Congo Kinshasa in 2007 would only jeopardise the UN's substantial investment before it has a chance to succeed."
Congo is the third largest country in Africa, with an estimated population of 60 million. Four million people have died in the country since 1998 from war-related causes and another two million people remain displaced from their homes inside the country or as refugees in neighbouring countries.
The report recommends increased funding for humanitarian assistance for displaced people, and action to guarantee that the return of refugees and internally displaced people is voluntary and safe.
Human Rights Watch also dispatched a statement, asking the Congolese to stop abducting civilians to work for them in Ituri gold mines and fields. "Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo must investigate and prosecute soldiers suspected of these crimes," the Human Rights Watch statement read, citing several cases of abductions and killings among civilians in Congo.
In some cases, the statement added, the Congolese army was seen abusing the rights of Congolese citizens, but the army spokesmen blamed the local militia.
"On 9 August, Human Rights Watch witnessed two government soldiers forcing six civilians, including two women, to carry chairs, benches and corrugated metal roofing looted from a nearby church to their military camp. The soldiers claimed they were "escorting the people for their own safety," a claim contradicted by the victims themselves, who explained how they had been forced at gunpoint to take the metal roofing from the church and to carry the items for the soldiers. The soldiers threatened to kill them all if they failed to obey.
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