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Fears Rising for Civilians in Eastern DRC


The U.N. refugee agency says it is concerned about the safety of tens of thousands of displaced civilians in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where fighting between government and rebel forces threatens North Kivu's provincial capital Goma. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

The U.N. refugee agency said the humanitarian needs in North Kivu continue to grow as the humanitarian situation in the province continues to deteriorate.

Peace efforts are under way in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi to try to resolve this intractable war. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is participating in this effort. He is calling for an immediate halt to the fighting, which reportedly has displaced about one-quarter of a million people since September.

U.N. refugee spokesman, Ron Redmond, said the UNHCR fully supports the secretary-general's appeal. He said the situation in eastern Congo, and in particular, around Goma is becoming untenable.

"We remain extremely concerned about the security of some 65,000 internally displaced Congolese in the Kibati camps on the northern outskirts of Goma," he said. "We fear that the civilian population, already in a desperate humanitarian situation, could be caught in the crossfire should fighting resume in that area. The opposing forces are now in very close proximity to the camps."

In fact, Redmond said he has received reports from the UNHCR's office in Goma that shooting erupted Friday morning in the vicinity of the Kibati camps. He said this interrupted the ongoing distribution of aid and caused panic among the camp population.

He said the shooting stopped after about 30 minutes. But, aid workers report the internally displaced from the camp continued to move toward Goma, to the South, hoping to get out of the line of fire.

"We are again appealing to all sides in the conflict to respect the civilian character, to respect humanitarian principles and to ensure the safety of civilians and those trying to help them. There is also a risk of militarization in these camps. UNHCR and other agencies are rushing to get life-saving assistance to the internally displaced as quickly as possible," he said.

Redmond said the UNHCR and other aid agencies are distributing humanitarian assistance in Kibati, including food, plastic sheeting for shelter, kitchen sets, mosquito nets and other relief items.

Meanwhile the U.N. World Food Program reports WFP and the International Committee of the Red Cross will complete a food distribution operation Friday to 200,000 people.

The 10-day supply of rations will feed 135,000 displaced people in six UNHCR-managed camps around Goma and 65,000 people in Kibati camps.