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Security Council Delegation Visits Eastern DRC

The UN Security Council delegation continues its tour of Africa this week and today members stopped in Goma in the eastern DRC. They met with representatives of a coalition of nearly 70 aid and human rights groups about the humanitarian crisis in the region.

There's growing concern that a planned new military operation against rebel groups, such as the FDLR, could worsen problems there. Humanitarian groups say a similar operation early this year brought reprisal attacks against civilians. They say hundreds of thousands were displaced, hundreds of women and girls raped and about 200 civilians killed.

In Goma, Marcel Stoessel, OXFAM's head of mission in the DRC, says, "We at Oxfam are very concerned about the humanitarian fallout of the military operation against the FDLR. Already a quarter of a million people have been displaced in the first phase of those operations in North Kivu (Province) and we are picking up the pieces."

That offensive was a joint operation between Congolese forces and the Rwandan army. Now a military operation is being planned for South Kivu Province, he says, "where MONUC, the UN military force here, will be also to some degree involved…. pWe were cautioning about the humanitarian fallout. And we were cautioning also about the fact that within the Congolese armed forces…where there are now new elements of militia integrated, there are known human rights abusers."

OXFAM says a number of things can be done to protect civilians. "We could like to see more presence of MONUC in the field. For this, they do not have enough resources," he says.

Nevertheless, even with limited resources, Stoessel says more can be done. "Especially more foot patrols amongst the displaced communities. That's what communities relayed to us. That we want to see those UN soldiers showing their guns basically and providing some indirect effect of protection," he says.

The OXFAM country director adds, "We would like [for] all precautions [to] be taken in the course of military operations that risks to civilians are minimized. It is always civilians who are paying the price."

The UN Security Council delegation apparently made no mention of the 3,000 additional peacekeepers that were expected in the eastern DRC last year.

"MONUC has a very vast mandate…. They have a prime mandate to protect civilians. At the same time, they have a mandate to support the Congolese forces. And there are some contradictions in that mandate and that was mentioned in the room today," he says.

Asked whether he feels encouraged following the meeting with Security Council members, Stoessel says, "We are encouraged that the Security Council took time, the very limited time that they have, to listen to the humanitarian community. On the other hand, we are disappointed that they did not go to the actual areas where current displacement is taking place, where the current humanitarian disaster is taking place. So they cannot actually see with their own eyes what we humanitarians have been talking about."

OXFAM says it's difficult to reach all those who've been displaced in the eastern DRC because of the ongoing rebel attacks. However, the agency manages, for example, to deliver hundreds of thousands of liters of water every day to remote areas.