U.N. peacekeepers said on Wednesday they would have to cut rations for 6,800 ex-rebels and their families left in limbo in government camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo, blaming a shortage of funds and calling for the state to step in.
The U.N. mission there also said some of the adults and children had been ordered to stay in the camps by rebel leaders trying to keep up a presence in the region – and the aid cut might push the commanders to let the people go home.
The announcement underlined the plight of the thousands of former fighters and their dependants stuck in often dire conditions in demobilisation camps for years amid a string of conflicts.
Last October, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said more than 100 people had died from starvation and disease in one camp because of government neglect.
The U.N. Peacekeeping Mission in the country, MONUSCO, said on Wednesday it did not have the funds to keep feeding the inhabitants, and something needed to be done to resolve the festering problem and get the ex-fighters back home.
“We don’t have the money,” mission head Martin Kobler told a news conference in the capital Kinshasa. “This costs us $2 million per month. It’s not our task. It’s not our obligation. The government must take responsibility.”
The government was not immediately available for comment but has in the past pointed to the difficulty of supplying remote camps, and accused world powers of not giving enough aid.
The defence ministry recently pledged $1.5 million to support the camps, Taz Greyling, the chief of MONUSCO’s demobilisation, disarmament and reinsertion (DDR) section said.
The camp inhabitants are members of a number of rebel groups, many from Congo, but others from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a force which includes former Hutu militia accused of involvement in the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda.
Analysts have said the FDLR commanders have been keen to keep their fighters in Congo to avoid having to return to Rwanda and face possible arrest and prosecution.
The FDLR portrays itself as a defender of Hutu refugees in Congo, a country dogged by nearly two decades of conflict fuelled by competition over vast minerals resources.
In an email to Reuters, Greyling said the decision to cut support was also meant to pressure FDLR leaders to allow ex-fighters and their families leave the camps.
“We hope that FDLR will let them leave and have a chance at a normal life,” Greyling said.
Junior Safari, executive director of the Congolese Association for the Respect of Human Rights in the northern city of Kisangani, where hundreds of ex-FDLR combatants and their families are housed, said MONUSCO’s decision would force the former fighters to live off the population.
“Now, they are going to have to get by on their own,” he said. “They are going to create panic and insecurity among the population.”