Aid agencies warn of humanitarian disaster in DRC

by
05 November 2008

by Ed Beavan

Arduous journey: a man pushes a wooden bicycle as he returns home, past a camp for displaced people in Kibati, near Goma, on Monday AP

Arduous journey: a man pushes a wooden bicycle as he returns home, past a camp for displaced people in Kibati, near Goma, on Monday AP

THE CRISIS in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) appeared to be worsening this week. As fierce fighting between pro-government militias and rebels continued in the North Kivu province, despite the calling of a ceasefire, an estimated 250,000 more civilians fled their homes.

Aid agencies warned of an unfolding disaster. There were accounts of looting and rape in Goma, the capital of North Kivu, by retreating Congolese troops. The UN refugee agency said that three camps for displaced people near Rutshuru, near Goma, had been emptied and destroyed by rebels.

General Laurent Nkunda says that his rebel troops are fighting to protect the Tutsi community from attack by Rwandan Hutu rebels, and is calling for better governance for the whole country. The General has accused Hutu rebels of taking part in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and has threatened to extend his offensive to the national capital, Kinshasa, if the President, Joseph Kabila, refuses to enter into negotiations.

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, has been in regular contact with the Bishop of Boga, the Rt Revd Henri Isingoma Kahwa, and the Bishop of Bukavu, the Rt Revd Sylvestre Bahati Bali-Busane, whose diocese includes Goma.

“The situation is really as bad as it has ever been, and there’s huge suffering for the people. It’s hard for us to realise how utterly insecure it is for people who are at the mercy of those who use force,” Bishop Scott-Joynt, who has visited the country three times, said. “People have been harried and fearful for so long. For 15 years in the Goma area, since the genocide of 1994, there’s been fighting and insecurity.

“Many people have been forced from their homes and are hugely vulnerable, and have very little food or shelter. Churches in the region are doing what they can to look after refugees, but are as vulnerable as the next person. There was a major regional training event for mission in the Goma area recently, and I’ve heard a number of people did not come home. Some ordinations could not go ahead.”

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The Bishop said that the question how to resolve the situation remained “delicate”, as the UN force in the country was “desperately stretched” and unpopular with the people. The control of the DRC’s vast natural resources and land, and the settling of old scores, were issues contributing to the unrest.

The Bishop of Kindu, the Rt Revd Masimango Katanda, described the situation in Goma the day after a number of atrocities were perpetrated by the retreating Congolese army. He wrote: “They shot and looted the civilian population during the night. Many shops have been pillaged and houses broken into. A whole family (nine people including a breastfeeding baby) has been killed in Katindo area. Several corpses were found in the morning in the streets. Goma is almost a dead city, as people are retrenched in their houses not knowing what is happening.”

Staff working with a Tearfund partner agency, Heal Africa, in the unstable eastern region, told of a growing humanitarian crisis and evidence of torture. The organisation runs a hospital in Goma, and is one of the few humanitarian groups still operating there. It reported increasing problems of access to food and water, and had treated victims of torture. Its representative Lyn Lusi described the cruelty they had seen as “incomprehensible”.

Tearfund estimates that the latest crisis has prompted 250,000 more people in the region to flee their homes, taking the total to more than a million. Distributing aid to civilians remains problematic. Tearfund has called for a security corridor to be set up so that humanitarian supplies can get through.

Tearfund estimates that the latest crisis has prompted 250,000 more people in the region to flee their homes, taking the total to more than a million. Distributing aid to civilians remains problematic. Tearfund has called for a security corridor to be set up so that humanitarian supplies can get through.

www.healafrica.org

www.healafrica.org

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