Chilling Echo of the Past
Once again a dreadful conflict is looming in eastern Congo's North Kivu region. We must stop it
The escalating crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern region of North Kivu is chillingly reminiscent of the war that first erupted there 10 years ago.
Between 1998 and 2002, we witnessed one of the worst conflicts ever recorded. Armed groups in search of political power and economic control over Congo's immense natural resources and backed by the Congolese, Rwandan and Ugandan governments, manipulated tensions and land disputes between ethnic groups to the point where a brutal and bloody war became inevitable.
Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in some of the most horrific ways - many were hacked to death with machetes and hand-axes. Tens of thousands fled their homes in a desperate bid to survive.
Despite various peace agreements signed between 2002 and 2008, eastern Congo has been plagued by ongoing instability and simmering ethnic and political tensions.
Fast-forward 10 years, and once again a dreadful and brutal conflict is looming across the horizon of the verdant mountainous region of North Kivu.
In recent months, armed violence has broken out between rebel armed groups - primarily, but not exclusively, Rwandese General Laurent Nkunda's forces (FDLR) - and government armed forces.
And once again, it has resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilians being caught in the crossfire.
Just last month Amnesty reported how thousands of children are being forced to take up weapons and fight; while women and girls - some as young as six - have been raped or exposed to other forms of sexual abuse.
The people there are struggling to survive in an environment already fractured and brutalised by previous wars - can they really withstand the abuses from another war? Or perhaps the question should be - should they have to?
Now more than ever the international community has to deliver concrete measures to protect these people from further human rights abuses. International pressure must be applied to all parties of the conflict to stop all attacks on the general population.
The UN Security Council has to make eastern Congo their top priority as they meet over the coming weeks and months.
And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN's peacekeeping force already stationed in the country - Monuc - must be given the adequate resources and equipment needed to ensure that they are able to effectively protect civilians, and to disrupt any armed group attacks against local communities. There should also be a clear plan of evacuation in place for the people living in dangerous zones.
Millions of Congolese people have already endured a decade of insecurity, unrest and displacement. The prospect for the next 10 years simply should not be the same as the last.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008