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UN Says Congolese Protesters Should Receive Aid Soon


United Nations officials say Congolese soldiers have obstructed food distribution to displaced families in the Democratic Republic of Congo by trying to register their own families for U.N. aid. Dozens were injured Monday in violent riots in eastern Congo, after newly displaced refugees attacked a U.N. convoy, saying they had not received food assistance since fleeing their homes in recent weeks. Selah Hennessy reports from the VOA West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

Christophe Illemassene is from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Congo's capital, Kinshasa.

He says Monday's riots, just north of the regional capital Goma, took place because newly displaced people have not received aid. Many of them fled fighting two weeks ago between fighters loyal to rebel leader Laurent Nkunda and local Mai Mai tribal militia.

"We had to actually stop the registration because we had some interference from families of soldiers who actually wanted to be incorporated in the list of people who were going to receive assistance," said Illemassene.

But he says the problem may now have been solved.

"It seems that the government has agreed to deliver assistance to the families of those soldiers which would allow us to resume registration of those newly displaced families," said Illemassene.

He says most people at the site where the riot took place have been provided with food aid as well as medical assistance and shelter.

"The bulk of the population in those sites do get assistance in all its forms," said Illemassene. "They have received the complete package of our assistance."

U.N. military spokesman in the DRC Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Chareyron says around 24 U.N. officials were injured during the riot. He says at least seven protesters were injured after local police forces opened fire on the crowd.

According to local officials, a six-year child was also killed.

Jason Stearns is an independent political analyst based in Kinshasa. He says this is not the first time local populations have rioted over the U.N. failure to provide aid.

He says in the past, local authorities, eager to lay the blame for unrest on an outside force, have been known to organize local populations against the United Nations.

"The United Nations has always been a very convenient target," said Stearns. "They are of course well off, they drive around in their air conditioned cars and they are well armed, so it is very easy to mobilize the population and say, well look, it is the big powers behind the situation, this is the world powers doing this. And here they are and here you are suffering, and they are not doing anything about that."

But he says the United Nations should do more to help and protect the Congolese population.

"I think on the ground there is more they could do in terms of presence, in terms of trying to implement their mandate, protecting the population and arresting human rights abusers," said Stearns.

Illemassene from the U.N. office coordinating humanitarian affairs says more than 170,000 people have been displaced in Congo since early September. He says, of those, around 120,000 have received assistance from the United Nations.

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