Oxfam calls for European troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo

International aid agency Oxfam wants European ministers meeting in Marseille today to agree to provide European troops to support the UN peacekeeping force in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It says that while a ceasefire declared by Tutsi insurgent leader General Laurent Nkunda following a week of fighting around Goma on Lake Kivu is holding, “it is very precarious and the situation is still very tense”.  
Oxfam says thousands of people remain displaced in inaccessible areas outside the town and “it is difficult for aid agencies to provide help to those that desperately need it.”
The humanitarian group says additional troops would assist the UN peacekeeping force, MONUC “in the essential task of keeping the people of Congo safe. The peace force includes a South African battalion, 121 SA Infantry battalion that is currently deployed near Goma. The unit is currently the MONUC Eastern Division`s ready reserve.      
“MONUC was already stretched before the recent round of intense fighting began and has clearly struggled to maintain security. With insecurity elsewhere in the Kivu provinces and eastern Congo, there is a serious risk that redeployment of troops from these areas to Goma would leave these civilians vulnerable to attack,” the agency says.  
Juliette Prodhan, who is in charge of Oxfam`s work in the DRC, says the European Union (EU) is well placed to rapidly provide the additional troops.
“Given the fragility of the ceasefire and fears for another outbreak of intense fighting around Goma, more troops must be deployed as soon as possible,” she says.
“The European troops should work in close consultation with local communities and agencies working to help vulnerable people. Their role should not be to provide aid directly — what they can do is help to create a secure environment where people are safe from attack and humanitarian agencies can get assistance to people who so desperately need it.”
Prodhan says the deployment of European troops should be combined with sustained diplomatic pressure to achieve a political solution to the conflict and immediate steps to improve MONUC`s ability to protect civilians.
She also wants a high-level special envoy appointed “immediately” to unify international peace efforts and address the underlying causes of the conflict.
“Political engagement at the highest level is needed to unify diplomatic activities we have seen over the weekend. Agreements have been signed in the past by all those involved in the conflict. Inconsistent support by world leaders has contributed to their failure. A high-level envoy can provide the leadership to ensure that the world does not look away from Congo as it has done so many times before,” she says.
Meanwhile, Prodhan says Oxfam is taking steps to help nearly 100 000 people displaced by fighting that has raged in the Kivu region since August.
“Oxfam have over 40 staff still in Goma and we are working in four camps near to the town. We are already providing water to 65,000 people in those four camps, and despite the fighting that water is still flowing. We are looking at opening another two camps and helping an additional 30,000 people, Jane Cocking, its humanitarian director, said in a media statement sent to defenceWeb.
“Many people have fled the fighting to the Kanyabayonga region to the north of Goma. Oxfam are trucking water into this region and assessing the situation.

The aid organisation adds that an estimated 5.4 million people have died in the DRC since 1998. Around 1 million people have been made homeless.

The current round of fighting comes despite peace agreement signed on 23 January by Kabila and 22 armed groups in Goma, committing them to an immediate ceasefire and the observance of international human rights law.
“The Goma Agreement followed the November 2007 agreement between the governments of Congo and Rwanda, known as the Nairobi Communiqué, which sought to address the presence of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Rwandan Hutu armed group linked to the 1994 genocide, in eastern Congo.