Congo: A Touch of Hope in The War without End
UN sends in 3,000 more troops as UK charities launch disaster appeals
A man cradles his son as he stares intensely at the camera; the
baby, secure in the strong arms of his father, playfully touches the
man's mouth with an outstretched finger. Only the rough bandages
swaddling the legs of the chubby infant tell a bigger story, the story
of a war without end, and of those men, women, ordinary families,
caught up in the fighting in eastern Congo.
nine-month-old son of Ngarambe Rukambika, 49, was shot in the leg at
the height of the fighting. These are just two individuals in a
dramatic and worsening humanitarian crisis that has drawn the world's
attention since their photograph, released yesterday by Médecins Sans
Frontières, was taken outside a hospital in Masisi, North Kivu, in
With armed men in all directions, few refugee camps left
standing and a handful of UN peacekeepers hemmed into their bases, far
away from the fighting - recent weeks have offered no good choices for
people such as Ngarambe and his boy.
Yet, three months after this
baby was shot and - mercifully - survived, there is at last a sliver of
hope for the people who live in the midst of a war with shifting lines
of engagement that wash up and down Eastern Congo, driving thousands of
the civilian population from their homes as they go. Last night, the UN
voted to send more peacekeepers to help the victims of a conflict that
has relentlessly denied families like this any respite. At the same
time, British charities joined forces to launch an emergency appeal for
medicines and supplies.
The UN agreement, unanimously voted at a
meeting of the Security Council in New York means 3,100 more troops
will be dispatched. The UN peacekeeping mission, Monuc, is already the
largest of its kind in the world with 17,000 soldiers but that covers
an area equivalent to much of Europe and amounts to only 6,000 in the
warring zone between the lakes of North and South Kivu.
theatre in which the extra troops will operate is one where the UN
mission, to date, has won no supporters and made no obvious, positive
impact. Yet, everyone agrees that they need reinforcement.
southernmost line of the battle lies just outside the city of Goma. It
is the entrance to the renegade General Laurent Nkunda's new realm and
a steep climb out of the city, away from Lake Kivu and over fields of
black lava rock.
All that divides the renegade general's forces
and the remains of the Congolese army guarding the city below is a
wooden roadblock. There are no UN peacekeepers in sight. Their final
outpost sits on a rock shelf below where their white armoured personnel
carriers are circled like wagons.
Only a strong stone's throw
away are the lines of General Nkunda's forces. Their cleaner uniforms,
shiny boots and the absence of a blue epaulette are the only signs of a
change of armies.
At the first post, a young soldier slouches
on a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, its explosive cased in plastic,
giving it the appearance of a toy. Flowing past the soldiers in both
directions is a human traffic. Some are heading back to their former
homes, others braving this no-man's-land to bring food from the fields
of Kibumbu to sell in Goma.
The extra UN troops - to be drawn
mainly from the armies of Senegal, Kenya and Angola- will operate in a
battlefield of warring acronyms: CNDP, the Tutsi forces of General
Nkunda; FARDC, the Congolese army; FDLR, the Rwandan Hutu militia; and
the Mai-Mai, another amorphous militia.
The current vacuum has
been filled for now by the CNDP, who are determined to project a new
air of calm. They are led by the Tutsi general who claims he is only
acting to protect his people from Hutu extremists bent on continuing
the fight that began with the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda.
General Nkunda's territory the markets are starting to operate again,
there are uniformed police and there are plans for an anthem and a
flag. There are also - officials insist - no refugees or displaced
people. Around the town of Rutshuru that recently sheltered nearly
15,000 refugees, there is little or no sign that they were ever there.
Dumes camp which housed 4,000 people last month has been razed, its
Many of those who have fled are believed to
be among the 50,000 people in Kibati camp, a bleak forest of tents
pitched on the volcanic rock between the lines of CNDP and government
forces outside Goma. No one is sure where all the others fled to.
more are being forced to flee every day. Yesterday was the turn of the
people of Kinyandoni, nine kilometres north of the village of Kiwanja.
fighting started in the early morning. Hundreds ran from the advance of
the feared Mai-Mai. In Kinyandoni, a crowd gathered around young men
wearing filthy football shirts and carrying AK-47s. In the middle sits
Paluku Djanks. He says he is their local leader and claims he is from
Kiwanja. They are fighting the CNDP to protect the villages, he says.
are "not the Mai-Mai" that the CNDP claim, they are local boys who rose
up to fight, Djanks insists, after being abandoned by their own
government last month. Then, many villagers scatter - little children
running for their lives. More of the young fighters arrive, several of
them dangerously drunk or high.
The fighters clutch their noses -
a gesture to communicate that they are Hutus looking for Tutsis. Scared
faces start to look for somewhere to hide and it is time to leave.