Aid agencies struggle to reach needy as fighting rages in Congo

Sunday, November 25, 2012
 A group of Congolese women protesting against the M23 outside MONUSCO headquarters in Kinshasa.
[PHOTO: UNifeed] 
Geneva/Kinshasa: Humanitarian agencies are still unable to reach tens of thousands of displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)'s North Kivu province as fighting continues around the city of Goma. 

Most aid agencies operating in eastern DRC have their operations based in the eastern town of Goma.

Adrian Edwards, Spokesperson for the United Nation's Refugee Agency, UNHCR, told journalists at a briefing in Geneva that "normally we work in 31 displaced camps in North Kivu hosting just over 108,000 people.  The fighting has meant that we and our partners have not been able to access most of these areas".

The United Nations (UN) estimates that there are over 1.6 million internally displaced persons in eastern DRC as a result of fighting between the national army and rebel groups in the region. 

The UN Children's fund, UNICEF, fears there could be a spike in cholera cases as those displaced may not have access to sanitation and clean water services.

Speaking at the same briefing, UNICEF's spokerperson, Marixie Mercado said that, "Many of the displaced come form other camps or villages where there was previously cholera.  There are huge numbers of children collecting water from Lake Kivu which obviously raises the risk of disease spreading".

Mercado also warned of the dangers of children being recruited by armed groups,  "M23 has apparently grown significantly in numbers and there are over the past few days and there are other groups operating in the area which raises the likelihood of recruitment of children, particularly those children who've already been recruited and separated from armed groups."

The spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Rupert Colville said that between the November 18th and 20th in and around Goma there were four civilians allegedly killed, including a pregnant woman and a baby and "at least 50 other civilians" were wounded during armed clashes between the Congolese national army (FARDC) and the M23 rebel group.

Colville also said that in Sake, about 20km west of Goma, at least five women had allegedly been killed and at least 17 civilians wounded "during fighting between the two groups, M23 and the Government forces".

Meanwhile in the DRC's capital Kinshasa, a group of Congolese women are continuing their protest outside the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, known as MONUSCO.

According to one woman, they are calling for "the M23, the Rwandan troops, and the Ugandan troops" to leave Goma, and are asking for MONUSCO's mandate to be changed so it can use its powers under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter to remove the rebels from Goma.  

The women say they will only leave when they get satisfaction. -UNifeed
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