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High Commissioner Guterres to visit North Kivu conflict zone in DRC

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High Commissioner Guterres to visit North Kivu conflict zone in DRC

13 December 2007

13 December 2007

GENEVA - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres starts Thursday a five-day visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) during which he is expected to fly to the conflict zone in North Kivu province in the troubled eastern region of the country.

Guterres will assess the UN refugee agency's operations to help tens of thousands of desperate people displaced by the latest escalation in fighting between rebels, renegade troops and government forces. UNHCR deployed an emergency team to the area in August this year to boost the agency's response to the crisis.

"I am deeply concerned by the suffering of the people and the terrible humanitarian situation they are facing, made even worse by this fresh round of fighting," said Guterres before leaving Geneva. "I also want to visit our staff who are working under great pressure and security constraints to provide those displaced with the assistance and protection they badly need."

Over the last year, the ongoing conflict, military build-up and general insecurity in North Kivu has resulted in a massive population displacement of some 400,000 people - the worst displacement crisis since the end of the civil war in 2003.

Some 170,000 people have been displaced since August alone. In total, there are now an estimated 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

The volatile security situation limits the access of UNHCR teams to many areas of the North Kivu province which restricts the amount of assistance.

Guterres is scheduled to arrive in the capital Kinshasa Thursday evening. On Friday he is expected to meet President Joseph Kabila before departing to Goma, the provincial capital of the North Kivu.

During two days in Goma, Guterres plans to visit areas where displaced people are sheltering, including camps and makeshift sites which are now reaching full capacity and will struggle to cope with fresh arrivals. Guterres will also meet with local authorities, the UN peacekeeping force, UN agencies and humanitarian partner organisations in Goma.

The High Commissioner will return to Kinshasa on Sunday and meet with senior government and UN officials, representatives of donor governments and UNHCR staff before returning to Geneva later on Monday.