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Aid Agencies Trying to Direct Focus on Republic of Congo's Needs - 2003-01-22

U.N. aid agencies are trying to increase gain more attention for the Republic of Congo, as a way to increase international support for a country they said is all but forgotten.

The Republic of Congo, unlike its war-torn neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo, does not receive all that much international attention. But U.N. officials said tens of thousands of people in the Republic of Congo are desperately in need of food and other kinds of aid.

Sory Ouane is a representative of the World Food Program in Brazzaville, the capital of the republic. He said in a few months aid agencies will run out of relief supplies and the people will be worse off than they are now.

"If we do not register additional contributions to support our operations in the Republic of Congo, we will face a humanitarian tragedy," he said. "Considering that the food stocks, the non-food items, the medicines and everything, which is needed for shelter, the stocks we have in the country will be depleted in two, three months if new contributions are not registered."

Most of the Republic of Congo, a country of three million people, is at peace. Only the Pool region, south of the capital Brazzaville, remains unstable. In November and December, tens of thousands of people fled Pool because of fighting between government forces and what are called "Ninja" militia rebels.

The government opened up so-called humanitarian corridors two years ago, to give safe passage to former rebel soldiers who wished to become re-integrated into society.

A U.N. representative in Brazzaville, Jacques Bandelier, said the plight of the ex-combatants is very serious. "Many of them have been living for months, many of them for years in the forest. The dramatic situation is accentuated by the fact that they do not have clothes or not many," he said. "For soldiers to put down arms, come out of the forest half clad, it is not a distinguished manner. It is a comprehensive and immediate and rapid response, which is required."

Mr. Bandelier said that the Republic of Congo is within reach of a durable peace. He said the international community has it within its means to solidify this peace by quickly providing money for humanitarian aid.