NGUNGU, DRC - September 24 - Renewed fighting in the volatile Kivu region of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has forced 20,000 people to flee their homes, according to international aid agency Oxfam. This new information comes as the UN Security Council discusses the fate of the UN's military presence in Eastern DRC on Monday 27 September.
Oxfam Staff in DRC report that in the last two weeks more people have fled their homes from nearby villages, arriving at the makeshift camp in Ngungu, North Kivu, about 37 miles from Goma the provincial capital.
"Some people saw armed groups attacking villages and burning houses, others left because they were scared of what could happen to them if they stayed in a place where there is no one to protect them," said Oxfam's Gemma Swart.
"Conditions are very difficult, it is very cold. People have been trying to set up shelters but there is an urgent need for plastic sheeting, blankets and sanitation," explained Swart.
Aid agencies like Oxfam are preparing to respond including setting up water tanks and tap stands to supply clean water as well as building latrines.
Oxfam is calling upon the UN Security Council to renew the mandate of the UN's Military Observer Mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) when it meets next week, and to authorize immediate increases in troops, funds and equipment.
Oxfam considers that the existing force of 10,500 troops is grossly inadequate and under equipped for the vastness and complexity of the DRC. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has, among other recommendations, called for the force to be increased to 23,900 troops, more than double its current size, in order to ensure peace in DRC. This would make it the biggest peacekeeping mission in the world.
"The security situation is extremely fragile," said James Bot, Oxfam's Country Program Manager for DRC. "The UN troops in the DRC are so thin on the ground that their ability to respond to flare-ups and to protect the civilian population and humanitarian agency staff caught in the crossfire is extremely limited."
The troops are essential to protect the highly volatile areas of Ituri with its inter-ethnic clashes, and North and South Kivu, where there is continuing tension months after the recent violent clashes between armed groups reportedly loyal to the transition government and various dissident groups. There is palpable tension and fears that widespread fighting could restart.
"The need for more troops is an important step in bringing stability to DRC, but MONUC also has a responsibility to make sure the troops on the ground now are used effectively, have good relationships with local people and have a high standard of behavior with the communities in which they work: the prevalent reports of sexual misconduct are unacceptable." explained James Bot
"The events of the past months indicate that a stronger engagement from the international community and other actors is required in order to prevent the transition program from failing and to prevent more civilian suffering and deaths. Steps towards a united Congolese army and a successful disarmament process need to be taken along side any strengthening of MONUC" he adds.
"Experience shows that where MONUC is deployed with adequate troops and a robust interpretation of its mandate, it has made a difference" he concludes.