UN paves way for normalizing life in isolated area of eastern DR Congo

Construction of the Bukavu-Shabunda route in the DRC

24 March 2010 – It may be a brown dirt road but the Bukavu-Shabunda route is the equivalent of a big highway in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the United Nations says its work to reconstruct the road will improve the economic, social and security situations in the troubled province of South Kivu.

“The road is a symbol of the new freedom for many people,” Florian Barbey, a public information officer for the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) in Bukavu, told the UN News Centre today.

The capital of South Kivu, Bukavu lies near the border with Rwanda, some 340 kilometres east of Shabunda. Once accessible only by air or on foot, the area between the two towns has been so isolated and thus vulnerable to the operations of the rebel group FDLR as well as diseases and malnutrition.

Since 1999, MONUC has been a cushion against brutal legacies of a war that claimed some 4 million lives in the DRC between 1998 and 2003 and uprooted or displaced more than 1.25 million people. The country’s easternmost areas have been beset by unrest in recent years as rebel groups and militias fight Government forces.

“Travel between the cities was possible, but there were many barriers. The FDLR locked away Shabunda. You had armed groups, militaries asking for money. Now, after operation Kimia II, the road can be rebuilt,” Mr. Barbey said, highlighting an operation last year by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), with support from MONUC, to neutralize the FDLR.

“When the road was destroyed, it took more than a month to cross the 300 kilometres between Bukavu and Shabunda. Now we did 75 kilometres of the road in a couple of hours,” said Mr. Barbey about a section of the road completed by engineers from MONUC’s Chinese contingent.

South Kivu’s Government and MONUC officials cut the ribbon on Friday to launch work on the next stretch of road, slicing through green hills between Nzibira, 75 kilometres west of Bukavu, and Isezya, some 140 kilometres away.

Meanwhile, the UN Office for Projects Supports (UNOPS) is working on the same route, but moving in the other direction, starting from Shabunda.

The Bukavu-Shabunda section is one of three routes identified by the UN and provincial authorities in South Kivu as strategic points for stabilizing the security situation in the region. Its rehabilitation is also part of the DRC Government’s Stabilisation and Reconstruction Plan for Eastern DRC (STAREC).

With reliable access between different regions, the Government will be able to deploy its police and magistrates and other representatives more easily into an area in the grip of insecurity and anarchy following protracted wars, according to MONUC.

“It also helps with communication. Future judges and officers will be able to travel the road to collect information and gather materials. This type of communication is necessary to restore state authority, which is our priority,” Mr. Barbey said, referring to the mission’s mandate.

In addition, opening up the region will generate economic development for the local population, which relies heavily on agriculture, particularly palm oil.

“If there were highways in the DRC, this would be it,” Mr. Barbey said.

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