4 November 1999


4 November 1999

Press Briefing



Decades of misrule followed by successive waves of fighting had resulted in an acute humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, correspondents were told this afternoon by the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Kinshasa, at a press briefing at Headquarters.

The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator and Regional Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kinshasa, Darioush Bayandor, described a situation characterized by “desolation and displacement”. He said the Democratic Republic of the Congo had suffered from the effects of 35 years of misrule and corruption, followed by wars in 1996 and 1997 and then, in August 1998, a second wave of conflict. Now, there were more than 800,000 internally displaced persons and some 150,000 refugees in other countries, such as United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia -– in addition to some 200,000 refugees from other countries who were in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The people were dealing with a chronic humanitarian situation, aggravated by war, and at the same time facing acute problems that were the direct result of war.

The United Nations’ humanitarian work in the country focused on saving and sustaining lives, he said. Funding constraints restricted activities, however. In July, a consolidated appeal for the entire United Nations system had been launched, requesting $60 million. The response to that had been “less than lukewarm”. An appeal for the year 2000 would be launched soon, probably asking for $90 million.

Due to the conflict, whole towns had had to flee from predator armies, he said. They had sought refuge in forests, and fed themselves through improvisation. In a recent poll, one third of the population returning from the forest was found to be severely malnourished.

The UNHCR was trying to obtain funds to support its activities, he said. But it was also looking forward to the peace process moving forward. There were grassroots efforts which the United Nations wanted to support, including schemes for reintegrating disarmed militia members.

A correspondent asked about the extent and impact of governmental corruption. Mr. Bayandor said he had emphasized misrule. Thirty-five years of misrule had impacted all sectors. The country was rich in mineral resources, yet everywhere there was evidence of abject disarray.

Asked about the Ceasefire Agreement [signed in Lusaka in July 1999], Mr. Bayandor said that steps had begun to implement it, and

Kinshasa Press Briefing - 2 - 4 November 1999

these must be supported. The Joint Military Commission mechanism had been activated. It was not the role of the United Nations to question the parties' good faith. Rather, it must welcome the agreement and work from there.

Irrespective of politics, innocent people were suffering from the effects of war and corruption, he said. They must be helped.

When a correspondent asked why there was a lack of attention to the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mr. Bayandor said that was a question posed by his organization as well. Because the press played a key role in heightening awareness, he was pleased to be addressing correspondents today. The humanitarian community wished to know if its actions needed to be explained or adjusted.

A correspondent asked whether reconciliation was possible. Mr. Bayandor said he believed people realized the need for reconciliation. Already, leaders of ethnic groups were meeting at the grassroots level.

Another correspondent asked whether people were likely to take up arms again. Mr. Bayandor said that, based on his travels and those of his staff, he was convinced that people wanted peace.

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For information media. Not an official record.