DRC conflict pushes humanitarian situation to crisis levels

By agency reporter
August 5, 2013

Despite intermittent peace talks in neighbouring Uganda, the conflict between the Democratic Republic of Congo national army (FARDC) and the M23 rebel group continues on the ground in eastern DRC.

In recent weeks, heavy fighting has been reported around Kibati, some 15km north of Goma, and on Tuesday, the UN Peacekeeping Operation in the DRC (MONUSCO) introduced a security zone around Goma to protect the populated area.

Any individual who is not a member of the national security forces and carries a firearm in the zone will be disarmed by UN forces as an imminent threat to civilians.

While M23 maintains the zone does not concern them, there are international arrest warrants outstanding against some of their leaders.

As a result of new M23 clashes with FARDC, more than 4,200 people have already fled towards Goma, and many more to surrounding areas.

Christian Aid partner organisation CBCA reported that large-scale displacement followed the latest clashes, with those who fled now living in schools or at temporary sites that have sprung up in and around Goma.

"The population lives in a high level of continual psychological stress, trapped close to the battlefield and with no access to their fields for livelihood activities," said Chantal Daniels, Christian Aid senior policy and advocacy officer.

"Recent advances against the reportedly weakened M23 means that the morale of the national army is very high at present. Among citizens and the army, there is much optimism about recent advantages against the M23." Ms Daniels commented.

The problem of armed groups, however, is not confined to the M23.

"Recent attacks carried out by ADF-Nalu around Beni, North Kivu, caused an estimated 66,000 people to flee into Uganda, and since January over 24,000 families have arrived in Kalima and Punia in DRC’s Maniema province," said Christian Aid's Daniels.

"In addition, many more continue to arrive from South Kivu where the national army and the rebel group Mai Mai Raiya Mutomboki are continually fighting," she added.

While hope for a military victory against the numerous armed groups currently active in eastern DRC is understandable, this carries major risks, she added.

"The impact of the current fighting on local populations and displaced people close to the frontlines is disastrous. Many of those fleeing the violence already have been forced to leave their homes and farms several times this year - something no coping mechanism or resilience programme is able to deal with," said the Christian Aid spokesperson.

Recently, Rutshuru and Nyiragongo territory were officially declared a red zone, with NGOs forced to limit their involvement in, and travel to, those territories due to security concerns.

"This severely complicates access for humanitarian organisations providing assistance, and is taking a severe psychological toll on local civilians who consistently have to leave all their belongings behind, risking their homes being destroyed and their assets and land pillaged. They are forced into making near-impossible decisions: defending themselves or defending their livelihoods," Ms Daniels said.

"Unfortunately, whether the current battles between the FARDC and the M23 can be resolved at, and brought back to, the negotiation table is doubtful, particularly since demands are incompatible. A further problem is that this dialogue is only taking place with the M23, with the other armed groups currently being ignored."

In March 2013, the UN Security Council renewed the mandate of the UN peacekeeping operation in the DRC, MONUSCO, to include a specific Foreign Intervention Brigade (FIB), tasked to neutralise armed groups. However, Daniels warns that initial hopes of translating such a policy change to real impacts on the ground may be too optimistic.

"Military operations must form part of a robust political process and a wider strategy on peace and security in the DRC and the Great Lakes region as a whole, and, simultaneous international efforts are needed to address security and assistance for the population affected by these clashes," Ms Daniels said.

Christian Aid is responding to the humanitarian crisis in North, and South Kivu and Maniema, where 16,400 internally-displaced households receive assistance by non-food items, water facility, food and food-security support, while special attention is paid to gender-based violence.

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