DR Congo: Caritas appeals for action as crisis deepens

 DR Congo: Caritas appeals for action as crisis deepens

Caritas Internationalis, and other global organizations are appealing for peace and provision of aid in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

The humanitarian crisis there has escalated dramatically in the past month since the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), under the command of renegade General Laurent Nkunda, launched a fresh offensive early October against government forces.

On Sunday, teams from the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Rutshuru treated 70 war wounded and have since been working to provide emergency medical aid to people in towns and camps.

Caritas Internationalis Africa Liaison Officer Fr Pierre Cibambo said: "We're witnessing the escalation of a humanitarian disaster that threatens to now engulf eastern Congo and the region.

"It has become difficult for Caritas to provide food and medicine to people who are in urgent need. All sides of the conflict have a duty to allow aid agencies access to the population and to protect the lives of civilians.

He said that unless security is quickly restored, planned Caritas distributions of non-food items in Goma and the outlying region are likely to be compromised, preventing 16,000 homes from receiving aid.

Peacekeepers with the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC), which is supposed to protect civilians, have been struggling to keep Nkunda,s troops from Goma. In recent days crowds in Goma and other places have stoned UN troops, angry that they are not doing more to help them.

"UN peacekeepers are too few and too ill-equipped to protect civilians in this difficult terrain Member states have to deploy more peacekeepers with greater military muscle if they want to end this crisis and avoid further humanitarian disaster, said Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch.

The group yesterday asked the United States, European Union, and African Union to urgently intensify diplomatic efforts to protect civilians and bolster the UN peacekeeping force in eastern Congo.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International is urging firm international action to press the governments of the DRC and Rwanda to abide by the commitments made in the Nairobi agreement in November 2007, particularly to end negative propaganda and to refrain from providing support to armed groups, including the CNDP and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

Jendayi Frazer, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, and Louis Michel, the EU commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, are both in Congo. South African president, Kgalema Mothlante, is also expected this week.

Despite a peace accord signed in January 2008, armed conflict has persisted in North Kivu. More than five million people have already died since 1998 in the DRC's protracted conflict and nearly 850,000 had been displaced in the previous two years. High-ranking Rwandan authorities deny accusations that they are giving any assistance to Nkunda.

Source: CISA

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