In the Democratic Republic of Congo, U.N. officials say while humanitarian conditions improve in one region, they’re getting worse in others.
For example, civilians are starting to return to their homes in Gemena in Equatuer Province, following inter-communal fighting, but insecurity persists in parts of North and South Kivu Provinces.
Stefania Trassari, spokesperson for OCHA, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in Kinshasa, says, “Equateur Province was the theater of violent fighting in late 2009, and this has caused displacement of the population in this area.”
It’s estimated 114,000 people fled the fighting. Some remained within the DRC, while others crossed the border into the Republic of Congo.
“Now, thanks to the improvement of the security situation this population has slowly started to come back home. And humanitarian actors are working, trying to help this population restore their lives,” she says.
The process is slowed by both a lack of basic infrastructure in the region and the continued fear that violence will erupt again.
“The security situation is much better than the previous month thanks to the arrival of the U.N. mission, the MONUC forces, and also thanks to the presence of the Congolese army,” says Trassari.
“Insecurity is still persistent,” she says, “Unfortunately, we registered cases of looting, sexual violence, illegal taxation and other kinds of human rights abuses against civilians.”
Trassari cites the case of a woman whose mouth was mutilated by rebels.
Military operations are underway in the region against various armed groups, including FDLR rebels. This has displaced many civilians and made them vulnerable to rebel retaliation.
“We continuously reported cases of people who are abducted. Women who are raped and also children, who are involved in armed confrontations,” she says.
Humanitarian workers still have no access to many areas and their lives are at risk.
About two months ago, in the Fizi Territory in South Kivu Province, staff of the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) were abducted and held for several days. “But this gives an idea of the insecurity that still persists in this area,” she says.
Late last month, the U.N. Security Council extended the MONUC mandate to June 30th. It says after that date, the mission will be renamed MONUSCO, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The resolution calls for the withdrawal of up to 2,000 U.N. military personnel by the end of June “from areas where the situation permits” and concentrate forces in the eastern DRC. MONUSCO’s mandate runs until June 30th, 2011.
DRC President Kabila has indicated he wants U.N. forces to leave the country by the end of June next year, about the time Congolese elections are to be held.
OCHA spokesperson Trassari says, “It’s obviously a serious concern for humanitarian organizations. MONUC is currently providing very important logistic support for humanitarian actors, and a possible withdrawal would definitely have an impact on our activities.”