- The security situation in war-torn east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is "calm, with the recent ceasefire apparently holding," the UN's peacekeeping mission (MONUC) to the country reported today. MONUC is now patrolling the streets of war-torn Goma.
North Kivu province, which borders Rwanda, has been the scene of fierce fighting between Congolese military forces (FARDC) and a rebel militia known as the CNDP, which is led by renegade army general Laurent Nkunda. Other armed groups, including the Mayi Mayi, have also been involved in clashes, some of which have been along ethnic lines. The violence has uprooted an estimated quarter of a million civilians in the past few months.
Yesterday, the UN Security Council authorised a temporary increase of more than 3,000 blue helmets serving with the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known by its French acronym MONUC, to deal with the violence in the country's east.
The extra 2,785 troops and 300 police officers will buttress the 17,000 uniformed personnel already serving with the mission, the largest UN force worldwide but one faced with the task of quelling unrest and protecting civilians in one of Africa's largest countries.
MONUC spokesmen said that there had been only three minor incidents involving brief exchanges of fire between Mayi Mayi fighters and CNDP rebels, but no casualties had been reported.
In the provincial capital Goma, MONUC says it is continuing to reinforce its troops, with patrols being carried out together with FARDC and the Congolese National Police (CNP) "to boost safety in the city."
The mission also spoke out against the systematic plundering carried out by uniformed men of a nutritional centre, run by a non-governmental organisation, which tends to 50 malnourished children in Kanya, some 200 kilometres away from Goma.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today that looting had continued in North Kivu, even as fighting had subsided. An office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kirumba, situated north of Goma, was said to have been looted, and civilians in the province were constantly afraid given the insecurity, illegal roadblocks and cases of forced labour. OCHA also said that there had been 20 cases of sexual violence in the past week.
For its part, the UN's refugee agency UNHCR today expressed its mounting concern for the safety of nearly 70,000 internally displaced persons taking shelter in camps, where shootings and lootings have been reported, outside Goma. Early this morning, a 20-year-old woman was shot and killed at the Kibati camp, on the northern outskirts of the capital. Several families were forced to flee their huts, which where then looted by armed men. "Our team in Kibati is assessing the situation and the needs of the victims," UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told reporters in Geneva.
The agency has continually voiced its concern for the safety of some 67,000 displaced people taking refuge in these camps. "We fear that the civilian population, already in a dramatic and desperate humanitarian situation, could be caught in the crossfire, should fighting resume in the area," Mr Spindler said.
The break in fighting had allowed UNHCR and its Congolese partners to start construction on housing blocks and critical infrastructure, such as roads and latrines. Additionally, a water distribution system was being built to supply up to 10,000 people. UNHCR also said it was to bring in additional aid into North Kivu, with six trucks loaded with relief supplies from Tanzania.
Meanwhile, lethal diseases are spreading among the displaced civilians. Nearly 500 cholera cases, including nine deaths, have been reported since 10 November in North Kivu, with most of those affected being displaced. Steps are being taken by UN agencies to boost access to clean water and improved sanitation. Also, more than 100 measles cases and two deaths have been reported in the region.
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