UNHCR chief meets Congolese President Kabila
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, December 18 (UNHCR) - High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres discussed his visit to troubled North Kivu province during a meeting here with Democratic Republic of the Congo President Joseph Kabila and expressed solidarity with tens of thousands of recently displaced Congolese.
Kabila, meanwhile, told Guterres during Monday's meeting that a regional peace conference would be held in Goma in late December and early January. He said the aim would be to bring community and political leaders from the Kivu region and leaders from neighbouring countries together to explore peaceful solutions for the present unrest.
The meeting took place in Kinshasa on Monday following the High Commissioner's three-day visit to the eastern DRC province, where fighting between government soldiers and fighters loyal to a renegade general has forced an estimated 170,000 people to flee their homes since last August.
Guterres, who listened to many personal stories of suffering while visiting camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the towns of Goma and Rutshuru, told Kabila that he hoped a solution could be found in North Kivu so that people could return to their homes in safety and dignity.
The High Commissioner also told Kabila that stabilization of the situation in DRC would allow for hundreds of Congolese refugees to return from countries such as Burundi, Rwanda, Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. UNHCR has helped almost 100,000 Congolese refugees to return home since 2004. It is running refugee repatriation operations to provinces such as Katanga, South Kivu, Equateur.
Kabila expressed frustration at the situation in North Kivu. The fighting in the province has not only led to renewed displacement, but possibly deterred others from returning home until the security situation improves.
Over the last year, a mix of conflict, military build-up and spiralling lawlessness has displaced some 400,000 people in North Kivu - the worst displacement since the end of the civil war in 2003. There are an estimated 800,000 displaced people in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.
Guterres also told Kabila that UNHCR was concerned about rape and other sexual violence against women in DRC, adding that abuses had been reported in North Kivu as well as in post-conflict situations.
The UN refugee agency funds the work of several non-governmental organizations in assisting victims of sexual violence. These NGOs offer counselling and run sensitization programmes among local communities.
Guterres left late Monday for Geneva.
By David Nthengwe in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo