Charity warns more Congo aid needed beyond UN convoy

Other News Materials 4 November 2008 20:23 (UTC +04:00)

A United Nations aid convoy taking supplies behind rebel lines in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo is not enough to meet the needs of desperate refugees, aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warned Tuesday, reported dpa.

Tens of thousands of civilians remain displaced after rebel Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda's forces routed the Congolese army and came within reach of taking the city of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, last week.

"Even with today's ... aid delivery, displaced people throughout North Kivu continue to be in urgent need of food, clean water, health care and basic items like blankets and shelter materials," MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders in English, said in a statement.

Aid agencies say at least 250,000 people have been displaced since renewed fighting erupted between Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) and government forces in late August.

As many as 50,000 of these people fled during four days of fighting last week, many of them to the Goma area.

The UN aid convoy is delivering urgent health supplies to the town of Rutshuru, where health centres were looted and camps for the displaced burned to the ground.

"The convoy has started stocking up local health centres that were looted to allow them to open again," Ivo Brandau, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in DR Congo, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Refugees, many of whom said they have not eaten for days, were furious that the convoy did not bring food.

However, Brandau said that the twelve-vehicle convoy was also needed to evaluate the needs of the displaced. Many are reported to be subsisting on berries and wild roots in areas where aid has not been able to penetrate.

"We are trying to find out where all the people are ... we anticipate the need for food, water, health and sanitation," Brandau said.

Other refugees have taken advantage of the October 29 ceasefire to begin trudging home to their villages from Goma, where Congolese troops last week went on a looting and killing spree.

The ceasefire has so far held, although Nkunda's troops have retained control of the territory they seized.

Nkunda warned in a letter to Alan Doss, the UN's top envoy to the DR Congo, that the ceasefire was purely for humanitarian reasons and would end if the government did not engage in direct talks with the CNDP.

Nkunda has also said that his troops will continue to attack the Hutu militia group the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The BBC reported small-scale clashes between the CNDP and pro- government militia on Tuesday. Those clashes did not appear to signify an end to the ceasefire.

Nkunda says he is fighting to protect Tutsis from armed Hutu groups.

Many Hutus fled to Congo after the 1994 massacres in Rwanda when Hutu militants killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the space of a few months.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis have continued frantically since the ceasefire.

British and French foreign ministers David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner over the weekend met DR Congo President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa and Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Kigali.

The Congolese and Rwandan presidents have agreed to attend a regional summit aimed at resolving the conflict, most likely to be held in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Monday he would attend the meeting if it took place.

Western diplomats say they feel that the only way to resolve the conflict is to bring Rwanda and the DR Congo together at the table.

DR Congo has accused Rwanda of backing Nkunda. There were some reports of cross-border firing during the fighting.

The CNDP and other groups in January signed peace accords designed to end sporadic clashes that occurred during 2007, four years after the 1998-2003 war ended. However, clashes began again in late August and have only ramped up in ferocity.

The UN peacekeeping mission in the DR Congo (MONUC) has backed up the Congolese army, even pounding CNDP positions with helicopter gunships, but it has been unable to hold back the rebel tide.

MONUC chief Alan Doss said last week that his troops, which number 17,000 across the whole of the sprawling central African nation, were stretched to their limit by the conflict.

Calls for more UN troops to be deployed in the country have so far not been answered with any firm commitments.

More than 5 million people are estimated to have died as a result of the 1998-2003 war in the resource-rich nation, most of them from hunger and disease.

The conflict is often referred to as the African World War, owing to the large number of different armed forces involved.