Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thousands of Congolese Stone United Nations Convoy

Thousands of Congolese stone UN convoy

Monday, 24 November, 2008
World News Australia

Thousands of people displaced by fighting in eastern Congo stoned United Nations vehicles at a refugee camp on Sunday in anger at the organisation's failure to protect them.

Soldiers who had stopped the UN peacekeepers' convoy at an impromptu roadblock at the Kibati camp then dragged a group of men off the trucks, accusing them of being rebels.

Peacekeepers' spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich said 10 surrendered rebels were among these men, and that they were to have been turned over to the military on Monday, "but because of this incident, it was agreed on the spot to hand them over".

He said the others were 10 police and three civilians but he did not know why they had also been taken.

The refugees at Kibati, six kilometres north of the regional capital of Goma, are among 250,000 people driven from their homes by the latest round of a long-simmering rebellion that erupted in August in eastern Congo.

Some refugees blame the UN for their plight, in failing to protect them from atrocities they say were committed by both rebels and government troops.

Congolese at Kibati camp hurled stones at the convoy and at journalists accompanying it, as they have done several times before in the past few weeks.

"We are very unhappy about what (the UN) is doing here," said Boyazo Ruzuba, 29, a resident of Kibati. "Before (the peacekeepers) came, we had peace. Now, we don't have peace. They are helping rebels."

The 17,000 Congo peacekeepers whose primary mandate is to protect the local people are badly overstretched, the United Nations says, and it has approved deployment of 3,100 reinforcements.

Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda says he is protecting Congo's minorities, especially ethnic Tutsis he says are threatened by Hutu militias from Rwanda, many of whom fled to Congo's forests after participating in Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Critics accuse Nkunda of exploiting the instability to gain power, and say his attacks have increased resentment against Tutsis.

The government, whose ill-disciplined and badly trained forces have frequently fled the fighting, is refusing to negotiate with the rebels.

Displaced Congolese are threatened as well by diseases that breed rapidly in the crowded and unsanitary camps. On Sunday, an aid group sent the first post-fighting batch of medical supplies to a ravaged eastern Congo town.

Louise Orton, a spokeswoman for London-based medical aid group Merlin, said the medication went to 20 clinics around the towns of Kanyabayonga and Kirumba, more than 100km north-east of Goma, for the first time since the towns were captured during a rebel advance. Up to 40,000 people depend on the supplies.

Also on Sunday, officials in Goma clamped down on the illegal sale of food aid in the city's bustling markets.

Goma mayor Roger Rashiy said local police spotted sacks of maize flour bearing the World Food Program logo in the local market, which led to the seizure of about 40 tonnes of food aid and the arrest of several vendors. Authorities said the food will be returned to aid agencies to be distributed.

But the UN agency's spokeswoman Caroline Hurford said the food on sale comprises about one per cent of the 3,500 tonnes of food aid they have given to the hundreds of thousands of refugees living in and around camps in Congo's North Kivu province.

"We are aware that a small portion of our food may be sold in the market," she said. "This happens in all emergencies, and it's largely because the beneficiaries like to diversify their diet. They're tired of eating the same thing, which is understandable."

Source: AAP

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