Restive eastern DR Congo deteriorating – top UN official

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The “worsening situation” in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) prompted a visit by a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) delegation which reports “a considerable deterioration” in particularly its troubled east.

With North Kivu provincial capital Goma close to numerous attacks on civilians, DRC military and MONUSCO forces, including a South African infantry battalion, a combined SA Air Force (SAAF) helicopter unit and SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) elements, are also in the firing line of rebel groups.

The delegation with UN Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) head Bintou Keita at its helm sought to mobilise UN peacekeeping and humanitarian operations in the face of security, electoral and structural challenges. At the same time the delegation’s presence was a show of solidarity with the Congolese population.

“Intensification of conflict with the M23 and persistent activism of other armed groups, including the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces), Zaire and CODECO (Co-operative for Development of the Congo) to name a few, continue to inflict intolerable suffering on the civilian population,” the Special Representative for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the DRC told the 15-member Council.

Keita pointed to North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri provinces as examples of deterioration where hundreds of thousands of people fled abuses by armed groups as well as clashes between the M23 and the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) and between CODECO and Zaire group militants often over control of gold mines in the region.

In North Kivu fighting between M23 rebels and FARDC displaced 900 000 people with an increasing need for humanitarian assistance.

“This humanitarian crisis remains one of the most neglected in the world. Displaced populations visited live in precarious conditions,” she said.

In this context, she called for mobilisation of more resources to properly implement the 2023 humanitarian response plan, which now requires $2.25 billion.

Keita condemned persistent impediments to humanitarian access, including an attack on a UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) helicopter in February, which forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to temporarily suspend flights in conflict zones.

She called on all parties in the conflict “to respect international humanitarian law and facilitate humanitarian access to vulnerable people”.

Keita told SC members in response to “immense” security and humanitarian challenges, MONUSCO “works tirelessly in hostile environments to fulfil its mandate”.  In particular this includes supporting the Congolese government with protection of civilians, as well as disarmament and demobilisation of armed groups and security sector reform implementation.

According to her, 2022 was one of the deadliest years on record for MONUSCO peacekeepers operating in an “increasingly complex, volatile and dangerous environment.