United Nations Peacekeeping Force `Indespensable' to Congo Relief Efforts

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo is “indispensable” to the humanitarian relief effort there, a UN humanitarian official said.

The Congolese government has asked the UN peacekeeping mission, known as MONUC, to withdraw by the end of 2011. More than two million Congolese are still displaced by various conflicts throughout the country.

“We think it’s important that MONUC stays here for a period of time,” John Holmes, UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, told reporters in Bukavu, the capital of the eastern South Kivu province. “We’re worried about a rapid withdrawal.”

Holmes is on a five-day visit to assess the humanitarian situation in Congo before the UN Security Council considers a renewal of the peacekeeper’s mandate at the end of May. After South Kivu, where the Congolese army is conducting military operations against a Rwandan rebel group and local militias, Holmes will travel to two other provinces still facing conflict.

“What’s clear is that the humanitarian situation remains serious,” he said, after meeting with civilians who’ve fled violence in South Kivu. “Our preference is for MONUC to stay and any discussion of withdrawal to be based not on any arbitrary timetables,” he said.

Eastern Congo has been mired in conflict since the mid- 1990s, when the aftermath of the genocide in neighboring Rwanda spread into Congo. More than five million people have died in conflicts in Congo since 1998, mainly from starvation and preventable diseases, according to the New York-based International Rescue Committee.

Attacks on humanitarian workers in Kivu are rising, Holmes said. “It’s frustrating for us and it’s particularly dangerous for the population,” he said. “Whatever MONUC does, we will stay here as long as the humanitarian needs are here.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Kavanagh in Bukavu at mkavanagh9@bloomberg.net

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