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UN's Ban Ki-moon visits displaced Congolese in Kibati camp


UN's Ban Ki-moon visits displaced Congolese in Kibati camp

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledges to help thousands of displaced people at a camp in the troubled Congolese province of North Kivu.
2 March 2009
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with his wife at Kibati.

KIBATI, Democratic Republic of the Congo, March 2 (UNHCR) - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged to help thousands of displaced people during a visit to a camp in the troubled Congolese province of North Kivu.

"You have the right to receive all the assistance [you need]," Ban told displaced people on Sunday at Kibati I camp, which is located some 15 kilometres north of the provincial capital, Goma. "As UN Secretary-General, I will do my best to give you assistance," he added during a meeting organized by UNHCR.

Representatives of the displaced had asked their distinguished visitor to help them go back home and to provide them with aid, including food for six months, household goods, agricultural kits and materials and tools for building shelters.

There are some 14,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kibati I and 4,000 in nearby Kibati II, most of whom fled to the area in the last few months of last year when fighting between government forces and rebel troops escalated. The security situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains fragile.

The main purpose of the Secretary-General's visit to Goma and Kibati was to raise awareness about the desperate situation of the displaced civilians in North Kivu, including widespread sexual violence and the bleak outlook for the young.

"We are unhappy to see our children not attending school," a displaced Congolese woman told Ban. "As women in the camp we have become a target of rape. We want to go back home," she added.

The UN chief stressed that the displaced have the right to live in dignity like anyone else. He was also concerned about the young. "I know that they should have a brighter future than they are having now," he said, while adding that it was good to hear that some IDPs were returning home. "These are good signs of hope," he told journalists.

But Ibrahima Coly, head of the UNHCR sub-office in Goma, told Ban that substantial security and humanitarian challenges remained for the displaced people in North Kivu and those helping them, including the UN refugee agency.

He said these included rape and other human rights abuses perpetrated by armed groups, while aid groups faced problems reaching the needy and in maintaining the civilian character of the IDP sites.

And while Coly also noted encouraging signs of peace, he said there had been fresh displacement following attacks earlier this year on civilian populations by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a militia composed mainly of Rwandan Hutus who arrived in the DRC in the wake of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The armed forces of the DRC and Rwanda launched a joint military operation against the FDLR.

"Some 100,000 people have been newly displaced in the province by the FDLR," Coly revealed. UNHCR was also worried that the FDLR could regroup and step up reprisal attacks against villagers.

The humanitarian situation in North Kivu is already dramatic, with some 1 million internally displaced people. Of them, some 250,000 were forced to flee just since last August, and many of them have been displaced multiple times. Some 40,000 people have crossed into neighbouring Uganda as refugees.

In December, the UN refugee agency launched its "Gimme Shelter" campaign to focus global attention on the continuing humanitarian crisis in DRC and to raise funds for UNHCR operations there. The campaign features a video directed by American actor Ben Affleck and the classic "Gimme Shelter" track by the Rolling Stones.

By David Nthengwe in Kibati, Democratic Republic of the Congo