Wave of kidnappings, violence hampering DR Congo aid delivery – U.N.


A spike in kidnappings and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s volatile North Kivu province in recent months has made delivering life-saving humanitarian aid a “Herculean task”, the United Nations said on Friday.

Congo’s east has been plagued by instability since regional wars between 1996 and 2003 killed millions, most from hunger and disease. Dozens of armed groups continue to prey on the local population and exploit the region’s rich mineral deposits.

The latest in a string of foreign-backed insurrections, the M23, was defeated by Congolese and U.N. forces in late 2013 but smaller armed groups and criminal gangs have since proliferated.
“Kidnappings of aid workers and civilians and attacks on convoys have increased, often forcing organizations to delay the delivery of aid and other essential operations or suspend activities entirely,” the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in statement.

Congo, which ranks 176 out 188 countries on the U.N. Human Development Index, is heavily dependent on aid from non-governmental organisations and U.N. agencies. OCHA estimates that 7.5 million Congolese will require humanitarian assistance this year.

The declaration comes two days after French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) announced the suspension of its activities in the town of Mweso in North Kivu’s Masisi territory. Unidentified assailants attacked one of its convoys and abducted two staff members last month.

The hostages were freed within days but MSF said that its demands for new security assurances from officials in the region were not met. The Mweso facility treated over 176,000 patients in 2015.

At least 175 people were kidnapped for ransom in eastern Congo last year, according to a report last month by New York-based Human Rights Watch. The group said many of the kidnappings appeared to be carried out by former and current members of armed groups, some of whom quit government-run demobilisation camps.

Almost all of the hostages, who included humanitarian workers, U.N. employees and local residents, were released after ransoms were paid, the report added.