Oxfam Demands France, Germany and UK Face Up to The Humanitarian Crisis in Congo and Get Behind European 'Bridging Force'

For Immediate Release

Oxfam International
Contact: 

Emma Pearson in Goma on +243 813 135 040.

Oxfam Demands France, Germany and UK Face Up to The Humanitarian Crisis in Congo and Get Behind European 'Bridging Force'

WASHINGTON - International agency Oxfam
today accuses European member states of turning their backs on the
suffering of the people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The
crisis in DRC is horrendous for hundreds of thousands of people
displaced due to the unabated violence and agencies are finding it
extremely difficult to get aid to those in need.

Oxfam urges
European governments, particularly France, Germany and the UK who have
the capacity to lead the way, to ensure the swift deployment of a
peacekeeping force to provide greater protection for people in
desperate need now.

The UN Security Council recently agreed that
the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC needed a further 3,000 troops, but
it will take up to six months for them to be deployed. The EU has the
ability to deploy a force which could provide greater protection for
civilians now, until the MONUC reinforcements arrive.

"Oxfam is
extremely disappointed by the unwillingness of European governments to
provide a temporary peacekeeping mission to DRC. Member states must
live up to their responsibility to protect civilians caught up in
fighting and they must do it now. EU leaders have to face up to the
stark choice before them. Failure to do so means armed men go on
murdering, raping and looting indiscriminately and the enormous
suffering in DRC continues." said Elise Ford, head of Oxfam's EU office
in Brussels.

Juliette Prodhan, head of Oxfam in DRC said: "Just
because the media spotlight is no longer so focussed on the crisis in
North Kivu does not mean that the humanitarian catastrophe has abated.
The people here cannot wait six months for further protection.

"The
fighting goes on between the different factions, there are still large
numbers of armed men across the region terrorising local people, and
thousands of Congolese people are still being forced to flee their
homes every day.

"The EU governments are turning their back on
the tens of thousands of vulnerable people in need of urgent
protection. We cannot stand by and allow this to happen."

Fighting
in the Masisi area, 60km from the North Kivu capital Goma, over the
last two days, has forced thousands of people to abandon their homes
and aid agencies to evacuate the main town.

An upsurge in violence in the border town of Ishasha, over the weekend led to 13,000 more civilians fleeing into Uganda.

The
humanitarian situation is alarming in the major town of Kanyabayonga,
150km north of Goma, where the 60,000-strong population was forced to
flee two weeks ago when armed men went on the rampage, looting and
raping. Oxfam has managed to start trucking water into the region, but
the insecurity in the whole region means aid agencies cannot work in
the town for more than two hours a day before having to retreat to
safer areas once it gets dark.

"About half of the people in
Kanyabayonga are still spending their nights in the bush because they
are afraid of being robbed or raped in their homes. The number of armed
men in the area means the people risk their lives just to grow, buy or
sell the food they need to survive," said Martin Hartberg, Oxfam's
protection advisor.

Meanwhile, people living in and around the
two Kibati camps, a few kilometers north of Goma, are under a constant
threat of violence, rape and looting due to large numbers of armed men
in the vicinity.

An Oxfam survey makes clear that the people in
these camps are menaced on a daily basis by armed men. People in the
camps are also afraid of being caught in the crossfire should fighting
break out again.

"France which currently holds the EU presidency
has already shown strong political commitment by helping to persuade
the UN Security Council to authorize MONUC to deploy more troops on the
ground. But the people in North Kivu urgently need greater protection
now and some EU member states are willing to provide it. French Foreign
Minister Bernard Kouchner must now mobilize the political will that is
so urgently needed and gain agreement for the swift deployment of a
peacekeeping force," said Nicolas Vercken, Oxfam conflict advocacy
officer in Paris. 

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