Monday, November 17, 2008

Democratic Republic of the Congo:UN Security Council must urgently increase the number of peacekeepers to prevent Rwandan-style tragedy

Today the cease fire collapsed and fierce fighting has broken out once more between rebels and government forces. Child soldiers are caught in the middle of this appalling conflict. The following information has been provided by the Benenson Society which is mounting a very active campaign to highlight the need for more peacekeepers to prevent a Rwandan-style tragedy unfolding

"The Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) is Africa’s third largest country and has a population of 62 million.

It is also a land wracked by war and violence, with ethnic tensions raising the possibility of another Rwandan-style tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of civilians and refugees and caught up in the fighting, and many are isolated from any help from relief agencies. "The conditions in (the refugee camps) are as bad as I have seen them anywhere in Africa," according to World Vision spokesperson Kevin Cook. Displaced people are in urgent need of water, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition and other supplies and protection from escalating violence." Cook said aid workers are also concerned about the spread of diseases such as malaria, cholera, measles and diarrhoea. He also noted that he is not sure how long relief workers would be able to stay in the country if the situation worsens. UN officials have noted that both sides in the dispute have committed crimes against civilians, including rapes.
"This is probably the worst place in the world to be a woman or a child," Cook said.

There is also the fear that the conflict will spill over into other countries since Congo borders as many as nine other African nations, in what will be a repeat of the continent's five-year war which touched all of them before it ended in 2003, which claimed up to 5 million lives, mostly from hunger and disease.

The United Nations has a 17,000 member peace-keeping force in Congo (known as MONUC), over half of these from India and Pakistan. Last week the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said more UN peacekeeping soldiers were needed.

The United Nations Security Council should urgently increase the number of peacekeepers in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to protect civilians in the face of new fighting and mounting civilian deaths. It has been meeting to consider this need, but members are reluctant to commit more forces.“The Security Council needs to move fast to increase the number of peacekeepers and save lives,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher on the Congo for Human Rights Watch. “The calls from the secretary-general and the cries of distress from the Congolese people should not continue to fall on deaf ears.”

European Union leaders last week discussed a rapid, short-term deployment of EU forces to help protect civilians until additional MONUC troops could arrive. But like the Security Council, EU leaders have not yet decided to send additional military support to the Congo."

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