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UN Refugee Chief Calls For Political Solution in DRC

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has visited a displacement camp in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. He told reporters the conflict situation in Congo needs a political rather than a humanitarian response. But until civilians can return home in safety, he said, humanitarian organizations must do their best to provide aid. Selah Hennessy reports for VOA from Goma.

Almost 200,000 civilians in North Kivu province have been displaced since fighting erupted in late August between the army and renegade troops.

Displaced women and children sang and danced on Friday, welcoming the arrival of U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres.

He was visiting camps at Buhimba, just outside the regional capital Goma, where thousands of civilians have arrived in the last week following clashes between the army and rebel fighters.

In one camp, in a large hut, with rain pouring down outside, Guterres told a group of displaced people that he feels a deep sorrow for their suffering.

Speaking to reporters, he said he knows not enough can be done to improve their plight.

"Different international organizations are working together, trying to give the best possible assistance," he said. "But let's be honest, that assistance is far from reaching the levels to which these people should be entitled to have."

He says it is important that the international community is aware of the conflict in eastern Congo and is proactive in trying to help the many people who have been affected by it.

"Remember the tsunami. When we had that tsunami, there was plenty of money, plenty of interest everywhere in the world," he added. "But the number of people that die in DRC for different reasons, but that should not die, corresponds to one tsunami each six months."

But he said, ultimately, the answer to the problem in North Kivu province is political and must be solved by political rather than humanitarian means. "My appeal is for peace to be quickly re-established and based on that peace for these people to be able to go back home," he added. "In between we will do our best to assist them here but even the whole of the organizations that are working here together in the humanitarian field we are powerless."

Renegade troops loyal to former general Laurent Nkunda say they are fighting to protect local ethnic Tutsis from Rwandan ethnic Hutus.

The government launched a renewed attack against Nkunda and his men at the beginning of December. But after early victories the army has suffered a series of losses.

Nkunda's highly disciplined guerrilla fighters have now taken back all the positions they held before the fighting began.