Deploring casualties, Ban Ki-moon appeals for halt to fighting in DR Congo

23 March 2007 – With sporadic fighting continuing in capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today appealed for a complete halt to all violence threatening civilians, who have received assistance from the UN mission in the country (MONUC).

Mr. Ban “deplores the unnecessary loss of life and condemns the looting and destruction that have taken place,” according to a statement issued by his spokesperson.

Government forces have restored order in Kinshasa, where fighting broke yesterday out in the Gombe district between Government soldiers (FARDC) and the guards of former Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was defeated last year by current President Joseph Kabila in the run-off round of landmark presidential elections, the first such polls in more than four decades in the country.

“The DRC has reached a critical turning point,” the Secretary-General said, and the “recent violence in Kinshasa underscores the urgent need for a new political culture in the country.”

Mr. Ban urged all parties to forgo violence and instead vigorously pursue political dialogue at all levels, calling on the Government to “provide the necessary space for effective participation of all political parties in debate and in decision making,” as well as for authorities to respect fundamental human rights.

MONUC reported today that although the situation remains tense, some of the fighters loyal to Mr. Bemba have already surrendered to UN forces.

“MONUC welcomes the restoration of order in Kinshasa by Government forces,” according to a press statement released by the mission. “However, MONUC also deeply regrets that force was used to resolve a situation that could and should have been settled through dialogue.”

The mission called on the Government to treat the defeated militia, followers of Mr. Bemba, responsibly by applying the Geneva Conventions.

While no exact figures are available yet on the death toll and number of casualties following 24 hours of fighting, MONUC estimates that more than 10 people have died and many more have been wounded, among them members of Mr. Bemba’s guards, FARDC soldiers, Congolese Police and civilians.

The mission is focusing on securing the Gombe district which has seen the heaviest fighting, and is utilizing 25 armoured personnel carriers aiding in the evacuation of the its staff and Congolese as well as expatriate civilians. Yesterday, MONUC moved more than 600 people out of areas deemed potentially dangerous in Kinshasa.

MONUC has moved two military companies into Kinshasa from other parts of the DRC and has provided first aid to victims of violence and has distributed water and rations to schoolchildren holed up in schools and at MONUC’s headquarters.

“MONUC also expects to be granted secure access, on an urgent basis, to civilians in need of food, shelter and medical care,” the mission said, pledging continued efforts to help those in need of protection.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the DRC, William Lacy Swing, has been in contact with both sides and also with international officials to bring an end to the violence, and has issued repeated appeals for calm over the UN radio station in the country.

Meanwhile at UN Headquarters, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro called to discuss the situation Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who is also the Chair of the organ of peace and security for the South African Development Community, of which the DRC is a member.

Yesterday, the Security Council issued a press statement calling for an immediate cessation of the fighting.

“The members of the Security Council are particularly concerned about the spill-over of the violence on the civilian population, including children,” it said.

The DRC is rebuilding following the end of a six-year civil war, widely considered the most lethal conflict in the world since World War II, which cost four million lives in fighting, hunger and disease.

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