The United Nations chief humanitarian official, Jan Egeland, says prospects for peace and democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo are looking better than they have for decades. Mr. Egeland says the international community supports greater efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in that country.

U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, says 2006 should be, what he calls, the year of the Congo.

"This is the year where we all hope that this perhaps largest and most bloody conflict in our generation would go into a transition to democracy and rebuilding," said Jan Egeland. "It is a crucial year. We need to keep all our efforts together to help the Congolese help themselves."

Mr. Egeland acknowledges the many difficulties ahead. He notes that the humanitarian situation in the Eastern part of the Congo remains terrible. He says civilians are the main victims of human-rights violations by ethnic armed groups. He says sexual abuse is practiced on a massive scale.

"However, there are also positive signs," he said. "We have never ever been able to access so many people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have never been able to reach so many people. That is one of the main reasons that we are now launching our biggest appeal ever for the Democratic Republic of the Congo."

The United Nations has appealed for nearly $1 billion to tackle long neglected problems facing the country.

The European Union, which is the biggest donor group in the world, has donated 38 million Euro a year in aid for the Congo. European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel, says a lot of hope is vested in the elections due to pick a president in March. He says it will be important to persuade the differing parties that there is a lot to win with peace and a lot to lose with war.

"The example of Burundi makes me optimistic because nobody thought that it was possible in Burundi to have elections fair and free organized," said Louis Michel. "And, they were and it is the achievement of the rebels who won the election. So, we have also to hope and expect that it will be the same in Congo."

Mr. Michel notes the DRC is a very big country situated in the middle of Africa. He says if things get better in the Congo, life will improve in all of Africa.