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UN Official Says Fighting Near Goma Has Devastating Impact

The United Nations says the Democratic Republic of Congo's army and rebels have engaged in what it calls the worst clashes in a week. This, despite rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda's declared support for a ceasefire. The latest fighting occurred in Riwindi, about 125 kilometers north of the eastern Congo's provincial capital, Goma.

David Ntengwe is external relations officer for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). He says heavy fighting is still going on in some areas. "So far, fighting has been ongoing in the north of Goma, but the rest of Goma itself is calm. Although the standoff between government forces and rebels is still not resolved, we still have a front-line, 20 kilometers out of Goma and where we also have 65,000 displaced people."

Ntengwe says the mediation efforts of former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo has not had the expected effect of reducing tensions among the warring sides. "I think it is too early at this stage to measure the impact of his negotiations because I an quite sure he has got a lot of diplomatic moves…to make sure that the right contacts are made, that the right people are involved and that they have an understanding in what they want to discuss, how they want to discuss it and the way forward. Now at this stage, up until the real discussion starts, it is difficult to measure the impact."

The U.N. refugee official says the war has had a devastating impact on the civilian population. "(But now) we've been able to, for example, distribute non-food items, we are taking advantage of this window of opportunity to ensure that we have a contingency plan in place for when we can move people to safer places than where they are now at the front-line, and more distribution of food is starting Tuesday by WFP (U.N. World Food Program) in the other sites within Goma. Theses are the things on-going right now as discussions continue and as relative calm continues to stay."