Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Democratic Republic of Congo Update: UN Joins Battle With Rebels; Secretary-General's Statement; Gorilla Sanctuary Seized

UN joins battle with Congo rebels

Refugees are fleeing as UN troops move north from Goma

UN peacekeeping forces are engaged in heavy fighting against rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The head of the UN mission, Alan Doss, told the BBC that helicopter gunships and armoured units were supporting the Congolese army north of Goma.

The clashes followed reports that hundreds of protesters had attacked the mission's headquarters, saying the UN was not doing enough to protect them.

At least 20,000 people are reported to be fleeing towards Goma.

The UN is trying to help government forces prevent rebel troops loyal to renegade general Laurent Nkunda from advancing on Goma, capital of North Kivu province.

"We can't allow population centres to be threatened," Mr Doss said. "We had to engage."

The muscular response from the UN shows how serious the rebel advance is, reports BBC World Affairs correspondent Mark Doyle.

Earlier, the UN had said it was considering using helicopter gunships against the rebels, but that government troops were also in the area and could be hit.

Goma threat

News of the UN's engagement came as it was confirmed the military commander of the UN mission in DRC - Spain's Lt Gen Vicente Diaz de Villegas y Herreria - had resigned for "personal reasons" after just seven weeks in the job.

The UN said it was working to "ensure continuity of command and to replace General Diaz as quickly as possible".

In Goma, a UN spokeswoman said that cars were being damaged and windows shattered in the regional capital as protesters attacked the UN base.

Demonstrators are angry that the 17,000-strong UN force has not better protected them against an offensive by rebel forces.

Over the weekend the rebels, who say they are protecting the area's Tutsi minority, captured a major army camp at Rumangabo and the headquarters of Virunga national park.

A BBC reporter in eastern DR Congo says the main Kibumba camp for displaced people near Rumangabo has emptied, as people flee towards the city.

Gen Nkunda has threatened to take control of Goma.

The UN accused his soldiers of firing rockets at two UN vehicles on Sunday, injuring several troops.

A spokesman for Gen Nkunda denied the rebels were involved.

His rebels attacked Goma last December. Hundreds of them died as the UN used helicopters under its mandate to protect civilians.

A peace deal was signed in Goma between the government and various rebel groups at the end of January.

Although he signed the deal, Gen Nkunda has always refused to disarm while Rwandan Hutu rebels still operate in the area.

About 200,000 people fled their homes after fighting resumed in the area in late August.

The United Nations says many refugees are malnourished and some are dying of hunger.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/10/27 17:41:33 GMT

Ban Voices Alarm At Worsening Conflict in Volatile East

UN News Service (New York)
27 October 2008

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today expressed deep concern at the deteriorating security situation in the far east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where thousands of civilians have fled their homes because of fresh fighting and rebels have fired rockets at United Nations peacekeepers.

"The Secretary-General urges the Government and provincial authorities to make every effort to restore calm among the affected populations and to work in close cooperation with MONUC [the UN peacekeeping force]," according to a statement issued by Mr. Ban's spokesperson that also called for an immediate end to the fighting.

"He reaffirms that MONUC will take all necessary measures within its mandate to protect civilians and United Nations personnel and property."

An estimated 250,000 Congolese have been made homeless since August because of the fighting - centred in North Kivu province, near the border with Rwanda and Uganda - between DRC defence forces (FARDC) and the militia known as the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), led by former general Laurent Nkunda.

The newly homeless join another 850,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) already registered in North Kivu before the latest round of fighting erupted, and local authorities and aid agencies are struggling to provide enough food, shelter, water, sanitation and health care to meet their needs.

Mr. Ban's statement noted that the most recent clashes in the ongoing hostilities between the FARDC and the CNDP, which he denounced as a violation of the ceasefire the two sides signed earlier this year, were having a particularly severe impact on civilians.

He also joined MONUC in condemning the deliberate attack near Kalenga by the CNDP on UN blue helmets. The rebels fired five rockets on two tanks that were part of a convoy attempting to ensure the safety of civilians in the Goma-Rutshuru area.

The mission said in its own statement that many IDPs are now arriving in Goma, the provincial capital, to escape the violence.

MONUC, currently the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world, is using its helicopters to support the Congolese armed forces as they fight the CNDP near Kibumba, which is located about 20 kilometres north of Goma.

"MONUC reiterates that under its mandate it will continue to intervene with all of its means to assure the protection of civilians and to protect the urban centres of North Kivu," the statement stressed.

In Goma, hundreds of demonstrators today hurled projectiles against UN installations and vehicles, destroying some equipment belonging to the world body.

Congolese national police and UN blue helmets worked together to prevent the protesters from entering MONUC facilities, and during the clashes a demonstrator was killed.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) have launched a rapid response mechanism to help meet the emergency needs of locals in North Kivu, but overall access for aid workers remains extremely restricted because of the fighting.

Angry demonstrators, roadblocks, the intimidation of humanitarian workers and the hijacking of their vehicles are combining to make it more difficult for the staff to conduct their work, OCHA said. The warring parties are also looting civilian infrastructure, including health-care centres.

The civilian suffering and displacement is not confined to North Kivu. To the north in Orientale province, an estimated 28,000 people have been made homeless in recent weeks because they have been fleeing attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), an Ugandan rebel group that sometimes operates in the northeast of the DRC. Many of the civilians have moved to neighbouring southern Sudan in a bid to avoid the fighting.

Meanwhile, MONUC's Force Commander, Lieutenant General Vicente Diaz de Villegas y HerrerĂ­a of Spain, has indicated he is stepping down from his post for personal reasons. While the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is finding a successor, Brigadier General Ishmeel Ben Quartey of Ghana will serve as Acting Force Commander.

DRCongo rebels seize gorilla sanctuary, government camp

Monday, October 27

(AFP) - - Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo were reported Sunday to have seized a national park in the east of the country that is home to more than a quarter of the world's surviving mountain gorillas.

"Rebels loyal to dissident general Laurent Nkunda took over the headquarters of the Virunga National Park and the sector where the gorillas are to be found after heavy fighting with the DRC army in the early hours of the morning," a statement received by AFP from the park said.

"More than 50 rangers were forced to flee through the forest."

"The taking of our headquarters at Rumangabo by the rebels is unprecedented in all these years of fighting," said park director Emmanuel de Merode in the statement.

The park, which has a rich variety of animal life and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to 200 of the world's surviving 700 mountain gorillas.

Fighters engaged in the fighting in the Nord-Kivu province regularly take refuge in the park, killing wild animals and chopping down trees for fuel. The park lies on the border with Rwanda and Uganda.

"The military camp of Rumangabo is again under the control of the CNDP, as are the localities of Kalengera and Rugari," a statement from Nkunda's rebel National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) said earlier.

The camp is an important army base in Nord-Kivu, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the provincial capital Goma.

"The CNDP took Rumangabo after fighting Sunday morning and clashes are continuing at Rugari," a spokesman for the UN's DRC peacekeeping mission MONUC told AFP. There were no details of any casualties.

An AFP correspondent in Rugari, 10 kilometres (six miles) south of Rumangabo on the road to Goma, reported heavy artillery exchanges were continuing.

The rebels said they had taken the Rumangabo camp -- which they captured earlier this month and later abandoned at MONUC's request -- as a "riposte" against the "generalised attacks on all fronts by the government coalition."

The said the coalition was made up of government troops, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a group composed of Hutu former militia fighters who fled Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, and local militias.

The DRC government says the CNDP, led by DRC Tutsi chief Laurent Nkunda, has military backing from neigbouring Rwanda.

Fighting which broke out between the two sides in August -- violating a January ceasefire treaty -- has displaced some 200,000 people, the United Nations food aid agency warned Friday.

The latest developments follow a recent call by the UN Security Council for a ceasefire in the region, a theatre of conflict since the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

No comments: