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UN Peacekeepers Construct Vital Road In Congo

  • David Axe

In eastern Congo, warring rebels and rogue government troops have displaced some 2 million people in a decade of fighting. The region's vast size, thick forests and lack of infrastructure complicate humanitarian efforts. In all of Congo, there are just 300 miles of roads that amount to more than footpaths. A U.N. peacekeeping force is trying to change that.

In eastern Congo's Orientale Province, U.N. peacekeepers from Morocco escort a World Food Program convoy from the center of Dungu to the town of Ngilima, where rebel attacks have disrupted farming.

The road - essentially an enlarged animal path - is typical in remote eastern Congo. It's poorly maintained and hardly passable.

It takes four hours for the convoy to make the journey - 80 kilometers - and another four hours to return to base.

A lack of good roads is endemic to Congo - and a headache for humanitarians. Sidou Hamani works for the UN office for coordination of humanitarian affairs.

"Sometimes 200 kilometers, have to spend days, three days, four days in some situations - to go from point A to point B," he said. "If there's no access from point A to point B, how can you assist populations in need?"

The U.N.'s peacekeeping force for Congo is trying to help. Indonesian army engineers are building a road to connect Dungu to the neighboring town of Faradje. Once complete, the road - spanning 150 kilometers - should help speed up U.N. operations.

For the last year, the engineers have been living and working in an area without running water or electricity. A few Moroccan troops guard them. It's difficult work.

"First we clear the area where we will make the road, we take wood from the holes, we fill it with limonite and maybe stone then we compact it," said Lt. Col. Arnold Ritiauw, engineer commander.

Progress is slow, just a half kilometer a day, on a good day.

"If it rains, we don't work. All equipment and troops come back to camp," said Capt. Sihombing Maruahal, engineer officer.

Rain's not the only obstacle.

"The most difficult challenge, besides the weather: we find many animals - wild animals - like black mamba snakes, and sometimes elephants, sometimes lions. We stay away," said Colonel Ritiauw.

Now, the road is nearly complete. The troops will rotate home and another company of engineers will take their place. The U.N. hasn't said whether the new engineers will build more roads.

But, it's clear, the need remains.