Mon, Nov 17, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Fighting erupts in east DR Congo

AGENCIES , KINSHASA

A child eats flour fallen from a broken sack distributed by the World Food Programme in Kiwanja, DR Congo, on Saturday.

PHOTO: AFP

Heavy fighting erupted in eastern DR Congo yesterday, hours before former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, a UN peace envoy, was due to meet rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, the UN and witnesses said.

It was not immediately clear who was involved in the clashes. Artillery, rocket and small arms fire were heard near the village of Ndeko, about 110km north of Goma, the capital of North Kivu Province.

Obasanjo was due to meet Nkunda yesterday morning, some 60km southeast of Ndeko, in his efforts to end weeks of clashes between Nkunda’s rebels and the army.

“There is a lot of fighting going on. They are using heavy weapons — rockets and artillery — as well as small arms,” a witness said from the road just south of Ndeko.

The UN peacekeeping mission also confirmed the clashes.

“We have had a flash report of heavy fighting since seven this morning at Ndeko. We have sent a patrol out to see what is going on,” spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich said.

Neither the UN nor the witness could confirm who was involved in yesterday’s clashes but Nkunda’s fighters have previously clashed with both government soldiers and Rwandan Hutu rebels, known as the FDLR, in the area.

As civilians flee the fighting an increase in attacks on aid workers has left humanitarian organizations struggling to help them.

One top UN official described large parts of the war-ravaged Nord-Kivu region as “black holes” where violence rages and masses of displaced people are on the move.

“We’ve got enough aid, but now the problem is access,” said Christophe Illemassene, head spokesman for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Kinshasa (OCHA).

The UN agency said there have been 21 attacks on aid workers in Nord-Kivu since the fighting resumed and now they are hesitating to go into some of the most affected areas.

“There are a lot of NGO’s [non-governmental organizations] in Goma, but aid is not getting through to the worst affected zones, where they need it most,” said Francois Dumont, an official with Medecins sans Frontieres.

“Many people are sleeping rough with their children. It’s cold at night and we’re in the rainy season,” said Olga Miltcheva from the International Red Cross, adding that most lack the basic essentials to survive such as drinking water or cooking utensils.

Kanyabayonga, 100km to the north of Goma, is one of the most dangerous areas of Nord-Kivu. Government soldiers have run amok there in recent days, looting properties and attacking local people.

Most aid workers have withdrawn from the area, Illemassene said.

As a result, a feeding center 10km further north had completely run out of food, according the OCHA said.

At Bambu, some 80km north of Goma, some 25,000 people who have taken refuge at a small base for the UN mission in DR Congo, aren’t receiving any assistance.

Medical supplies had been pillaged from health centers in the surrounding area while others weren’t receiving new supplies, just as cholera is spreading through the area, with some 1,000 cases recorded in Nord-Kivu last month.

But further south in the rebel-controlled territory between Goma and Ruthsuru, aid agencies are slowly restarting their work.

But it is around Goma, where there are tens of thousands of refugees, that most aid workers are operating, although a lack of security remains a problem.

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