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UN appeals for peace as violence curtails relief operations

[DRC] A Congolese woman nurses her daughter who was hit by a stray bullet during the fighting in the eastern city of Bukavu. Date taken: 3 June 2004.
Le enfants sont particulièrement vulnérables parce que certaines de ces armes ressemblent à des jouets (IRIN)

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), MONUC, has deplored attacks against UN-system premises in the DRC, Fred Eckhard, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, said on Friday.

MONUC appealed to all members of the country’s transitional government to work towards restoring peace and the credibility of the transitional process, he said, adding that the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remained tense.

The appeal followed widespread protests in which UN property was damaged, and fighting which began on 26 May in the eastern town of Bukavu between national army loyalists and dissidents, who took over parts of the town on Wednesday.

The dissidents, led by Gen Laurent Nkunda and Col Jules Mutebusi, are former members of the Rassemblement congolais pour la Democratie-Goma, a rebel group that used to control the area. They purported that their aim was to defend the area’s Tutsi minority, known as the Banyamulenge, whom, they said, were being persecuted by the regional military commander assigned to Bukavu by the government.

When the dissidents seized control of Bukavu, DRC President Joseph Kabila appealed to Congolese to rise up against them, claiming they had received help from Rwanda, which the Rwandan authorities denied.

Anti-UN protests, looting in Kinshasa and elsewhere

In response to the appeal, demonstrators protested on Thursday against what they perceived as MONUC’s failure to prevent the dissidents from taking over Bukavu. In Kinshasa, demonstrators thronged the streets, shutting down schools and businesses, and erecting barricades. Crowds hurled stones at MONUC’s headquarters in the town.

MONUC spokesman Hamadoun Toure said on Friday that two people had died in the unrest in Kinshasa. There was no official death toll on Bukavu, but dozens of people were reported to have died since the fighting began there.

Brig-Gen Jan Isberg, the UN commander in charge of North and South Kivu, said – also on Friday - that MONUC had taken control of security in Bukavu after leaders of the dissidents agreed to withdraw their men. He said MONUC had redeployed its forces within the town.

Eckhard said later on Friday at his daily briefing [held at noon, which would have been about 20.00 Congolese time] that reports from MONUC indicated that while there was no fighting in Bukavu, sporadic looting continued. The rebel forces were less visible in the streets of Bukavu, he said, but MONUC's assessment was that no significant withdrawal had yet taken place.

The crisis in Bukavu is arguably one of the biggest faced by the DRC’s transitional government since its establishment in July 2003 following a December 2002 power-sharing accord between the administration of President Kabila and rebel groups which controlled the north and east of the country. It has led to the displacement of significant numbers of people and interrupted relief operations in parts of the country.

Eckhard said there were indications that a Congolese government team headed by Foreign Minister Antoine Ghonda that should have travelled to Bukavu on Friday would now do so on Saturday.

Many displaced, relief operations curtailed

One of the agencies targeted in Thursday’s unrest, which spread from Kinshasa to various other towns such as Lubumbashi, in the south, and Bukavu and Goma in the east, was the World Food Programme (WFP).

WFP reported that in the eastern town of Kalemie, mobs looted its office and a WFP warehouse containing 1,000 mt of food. The agency appealed for an end to the looting and attacks against its offices, saying in a statement issued on Friday that the violence had forced the temporary suspension of its aid operations in many parts of the country.

In the province of South Kivu, which includes Bukavu, WFP usually provides 3,500 mt of food each month for nutritional centres, patients in hospitals, food-for-work and other programmes which, all told, cater for 150,000 people.

Exactly how many people have been forced from their homes by the violence in Bukavu was still unclear.

Eckhard reported MONUC as saying that about 1,000 of those displaced within the DRC were being taken to a nearby location where they would be assisted. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, reported on Wednesday that about 2,000 refugees had fled to the town of Cyangugu, across the border in Rwanda, since the start of the fighting.

UNHCR, which said the influx had prompted it to increase its presence in Cyangugu, reported on Wednesday that more than 1,900 of the refugees had registered for UNHCR assistance. By Friday, the number had increased to 2,200, according to a UNHCR field officer in the Rwandan border town.

Many had found shelter with friends and relatives, but about 950 were at the Nyagatare transit centre set up by UNHCR in Cyangugu, the agency said on Wednesday. WFP said on Friday that it had provided food for some 1,000 refugees accommodated at the transit centre. It said it was moving 62 mt of food - enough to feed 3,000 people for one month - to Cyangugu from the town of Butare, in southern Rwanda.

UNHCR also said it was looking at expanding the capacity of the Nyagatare centre to accommodate up to 2,000 people, and that further expansion would be possible if required.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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