DR Congo: UN agencies step up aid after violence subsides in Kinshasa

28 March 2007 – Following several days of violence in the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) between Government forces and guards of former Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, United Nations agencies are providing assistance to people in Kinshasa as well as assessing the protection needs of vulnerable groups.

The fighting began on 22 March in Gombe in central Kinshasa, with both sides – Government soldiers (FARDC) and forces loyal to Mr. Bemba, who was defeated last year by current President Joseph Kabila in the run-off round of landmark presidential elections – using heavy weaponry, including heavy shelling and continuous gunfire.

The UN mission in the country, known as MONUC, estimates that hundreds died and many more were wounded in the violence which subsided on 24 March. MONUC said today that 140 of Mr. Bemba’s guards, including 15 who were wounded, have surrendered to the mission and are being cared for along with almost 170 members of their families.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) voiced concern for several vulnerable groups in the aftermath of the fighting, including the families and dependents of those loyal to Mr. Bemba and street children who have been arrested. The agency also warned of the risk of sexual violence and other human rights abuses, as well as of alleged arbitrary executions and other reprisals against Mr. Bemba’s supporters.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) has distributed 3 metric tons of essential drugs and surgical materials to meet emergency needs to assist the wounded. WHO also provided 400 rolls of plaster and 100 sheets.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is currently evaluating the situation of street children and minors who are dependents of Mr. Bemba’s forces sheltered by MONUC.

At a press conference today, MONUC officials urged the Government to participate in a democratic dialogue with opposition parties and civil society organizations.

The mission called on the DRC’s Government to continue efforts to consolidate democracy after last year’s historic elections intended to bring lasting peace to the country which is rebuilding after a brutal six-year civil war.

The Government must “initiate a broad democratic dialogue with the opposition parties as well as civil society organizations to work towards reconciliation,” said MONUC spokesperson Kemal Saiki.

Despite the recent unrest in Kinshasa, MONUC reports that most of the rest of the country remains relatively calm.

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