17 November 2008 United Nations attack helicopters have mounted reconnaissance flights and “are poised to respond to any and all eventualities” in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after rebel forces violated a ceasefire and seized a number of localities in some of the worst fighting in more than a week.
Strongly condemning the latest violation yesterday of the ceasefire by the rebel National Congress for the Defence of the People, know by its French acronym CNDP and led by renegade general Laurent Nkunda, the UN Mission in DRC (MONUC) called on the warring parties to uphold the ceasefire and give the ongoing political process a chance to succeed.
MONUC said it would support humanitarian organizations in relocating 60,000 displaced people in North Kivu province, now in the potential line of fire, away from the frontline in Kibati to Mugungu III camp for their security and enhanced relief. Kibati is 10 kilometres north of Goma, the provincial capital and just below rebel lines. It would be especially vulnerable should the rebels advance on the city.
MONUC has also deployed a civilian team to Kiwanja to evaluate the situation and facilitate communication between the population and MONUC troops. Some 250,000 people are estimated to have been uprooted since August in the latest wave of fighting, adding to the hundreds of thousands already driven from their homes in earlier bouts.
“In the field of the assistance the humanitarians continue to organize and reinforce their intervention capacities,” MONUC said. Along with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) received food and non-food products by air from the regional warehouse in Tanzania, and by road from Entebbe in Uganda. The distribution is being carried out in the six camps around Goma and in other centres.
On the political front, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Envoy, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, met with Presidents José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola and Joseph Kabila of the DRC, and later with Mr. Nkunda in North Kivu.
“Laurent Nkunda engaged on two things in my presence: the respect of the ceasefire on the one hand and on the other, the maintenance of humanitarian corridors in order to give unconditional access to assist vulnerable populations,” Mr. Obasanjo told reporters in Goma.
He indicated that Mr. Nkunda raised demands, including integration of rebels in the national army at the appropriate rank. He also demanded direct discussions with the Government, without condition, on various issues – politics, economics and security – and said he wanted protection and security for all minorities in the DRC without exception, in particular of those in the east.
Hostilities have continued in the east despite stabilization in much of the rest of the vast country, which was torn by years of civil war that cost 4 million lives in fighting and attendant hunger and disease – widely considered the most lethal conflict in the world since World War II – before it ended earlier this decade.
Asked about Mr. Nkunda’s credibility on the ceasefire and humanitarian corridor issues, Mr. Obasanjo said he intended to work “on the basis of the principle of mutual trust,” and that he would judge Mr. Nkunda “on his acts, hoping that he would not disappoint.”
Mr. Obasanjo and African Union Co-Facilitator Benjamin Mkapa were in Nairobi, Kenya, today to brief that country’s President Mwai Kibaki, in his capacity as the Chair of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, on their talks.
News Tracker: past stories on this issue