With thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) expected to return to villages abandoned by M23 after recent fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), there are worries about unexploded ordnance (UXO).
“The gradual liberation of zones controlled by M23 has allowed for some displaced populations to return their areas of origin. But there is a protection concern for civilians in the face of large quantities of unexploded remnants of war [ERW],” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a recent statement.
“Access to these people and the ability of vulnerable populations to access basic services depend on a safe environment which can only be guaranteed after the areas of return have been cleared of UXO,” the statement said.
It added that the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre (UNMACC) was in North Kivu working to remove UXO and raise awareness of the dangers to the population “but the needs are enormous and require additional means”.
Kilema Ngoma, national operations officer with UNMACC, told IRIN: “Normally we find abandoned ordnance. That is why the major advice to IDPs and the local resident population is not to touch, pick up or disturb or handle devices they may find as it can put their lives in danger.”
He added: “We can’t advise IDPs to return now to areas between Kibumba [in Nyiragongo Territory] and Tshanzu [in Rutshuru Territory].”
On 5 November, the DRC army announced it had recovered an estimated 300 tons of weapons and ammunition in Tshanzu, a hill near the DRC border with Uganda and Rwanda used as an M23 base.
UNMACC is in the process of clearing ERW in Kibati (20km north of Goma), the scene of heavy fighting between rebels and the Congolese army in September.
ERW recovered so far include mortar bombs, RPG-rockets, artillery, small arms and grenades.
UNMACC’s Ngoma told IRIN that while the area between Goma and Nyiragongo had been cleared, returning IDPs are expected to provide information on the specific areas they intend to return to, and get clearance from UNMACC.
“They still require our clearance because our teams are still on roads to evaluate the state of unexploded ordnances based on information we get from our UN and aid agencies partners.”
Local leaders like Dominique Lokofo Bofenda, the administrator of Nyiragongo, told IRIN his administration is raising awareness about UXO.
“Since my administration regained control of the territory, I am [moving between] community radio stations explaining what the demining services [are all about]. We are seizing that opportunity to warn the population to respect strict advice against touching or handling materials that look like unexploded devices,” he said. “Most of the population are now getting [understanding] our messages because they are often calling us [whenever they] meet unknown [objects] in their fields.”
According to Bofenda, in places like Mutaho in Nyiragongo, where heavy fighting occurred in July and August, the extent of the ERW danger was “alarming”.
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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