DRC: Displaced in North Kivu could face epidemics due to limited access

Friday, October 19, 2007

Aid workers in the strife-torn east of the Democratic Republic of Congo fear measles and cholera epidemics may break out among displaced people who cannot be reached by humanitarian agencies because of fighting between government forces and dissident soldiers in North Kivu province.

Meanwhile, President Joseph Kabila said on 17 October that the dissidents would be disarmed by force after their leader, Laurent Nkunda, rejected fresh calls to reintegrate his fighters into the national army.

"Considering the reduction in access, a large number of vulnerable people have not received any assistance," said Christophe Illemassene, senior public information officer with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Kinshasa.

"Humanitarian workers fear possible outbreaks of epidemics such as cholera and measles," he added. “Population movements are continuing despite a lull in fighting," he said.

According to OCHA, the security situation in Masisi and Rutshuru districts remained unpredictable, despite talks between some of the groups involved in the conflict, making access to the vulnerable populations in the areas difficult.

"While assistance in the sites around Goma [capital of North Kivu] continues, humanitarian organisations focus on reaching populations that have remained inaccessible such as in Masisi town, Mweso (Masisi), Bunagana/Jomba (Rutshuru) and Nyanzale (Rutshuru)," OCHA stated in its latest humanitarian situation report released on 17 October.

Humanitarian agencies have been able to deliver both food and non-food items to people in need in Mugunga, Bulengo, Mushake, Kabaya and the southern area of the the town of Sake, despite the limited access.

“Disarming Nkunda”

Kabila told reporters on 17 October he had given the army a "green light to start preparations for the imminent forcible disarming of Mr Nkunda and all those who are still with him.

"Mr Nkunda is a criminal and you know there is an arrest warrant issued against him," he added.

Kabila said his government was also preparing to forcibly disarm and repatriate Rwandan Hutu fighters who fled to eastern DRC after Rwanda's 1994 genocide, in which many of them are alleged to have played an active role.

Nkunda, who styles himself as the protector of eastern DRC's Tutsi population, has repeatedly accused the DRC army of working with such Rwandan fighters.

Fighting between Nkunda's forces and government troops in North Kivu has intensified since September. The violence has forced at least 370,000 civilians flee their homes, often beyond the reach of humanitarian workers.

Source: IRIN
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