Congolese Displaced by Kivu Conflict Face Starvation, UN Says

By Franz Wild

Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Civilians driven from their homes by fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern North Kivu province are facing starvation as clashes between government troops and rebels block relief efforts, the United Nations said.

The UN World Food Program has cut ration sizes by half to the people it is feeding in the region. Daily fighting there between government troops and rebels has added tens of thousands of newly displaced civilians, known as IDPs, to the 837,000 the UN has already registered.

For civilians in North Kivu, the civil war that ended five years ago in the rest of Africa's third-largest country, killing about 4 million people, is still raging, with repeated clashes since Aug. 28 between troops loyal to President Joseph Kabila and rebels led by renegade General Laurent Nkunda.

``Many IDPs in North Kivu are starving because of food insufficiency,'' WFP spokesman Claude Kalinga said today in an interview in Kinshasa, the capital. Fighting in the area, rising food and fuel prices, and delays in moving assistance from Congo's ports to the needy have caused aid shortages, he said.

Violence has forced Rome-based WFP to suspend operations outside the regional capital of Goma, Kalinga said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says Congo needs $736.5 million worth of relief this year, more than any other country except neighboring Sudan. Donors have provided about half of the funds so far, Ocha said.

The UN Mission in Congo, the 18,000-strong peacekeeping force known as Monuc, hasn't been able to quell the violence.

Difficult Terrain

``It's extremely difficult to police the area,'' Monuc spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux said today by phone from Kinshasa. ``The number of blue helmets we have is limited, the terrain is difficult and the armed groups are highly mobile.''

Nkunda's National Council for the Defense of the People, or CNDP, says it's fighting to protect Congo's Tutsi minority from the mainly Hutu militia from neighboring Rwanda that regrouped in the area after it was driven out following the 1994 genocide.

Nkunda, whose group frequently boycotted a January peace deal, yesterday announced he was pulling out of the agreement signed with the administration of Kabila, who won the presidency in 2006 in the first democratic elections in over four decades.

The increased violence is forcing civilians to abandon their farms and cutting food aid supplies to them.

``We're here because there's no peace in our villages,'' said Augustin Sanzabahizi, 63, the leader of 1,407 families at Nyongera camp in Kiwanja, 74 kilometers (46 miles) north of the provincial capital, Goma. ``When we go back to our fields we get attacked by armed men, the men are beaten and the women are raped.''


As a result, starvation is beginning to hit the camps, some of which haven't received food for two months. In Nyongera camp five people including three children have died of hunger since the beginning of the fighting, said Sanzabahizi, a father of six.

As in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, women are being targeted for sexual attack when they leave the camps in North Kivu, Sanzabahizi said. This year, 150 women from the camp have been raped, he said.

``They have to leave the camp to get firewood or they go back to their villages to get food from their fields and they get raped by armed men,'' he said.

Looting by armed groups also stymies relief efforts, said Ocha spokesman Christophe Illemassene.

``We sometimes decide against conducting a distribution of any specific assistance, because we worry that will put the population that is receiving those items at risk of being looted,'' he said in a Sept. 30 interview in Kinshasa.

Aid Agencies Attacked

Since the beginning of the year humanitarian aid agencies have been attacked at least 52 times, Illemassene said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch last month urged both the government and the rebels to restrain their troops in North Kivu.

``They are responsible for keeping their soldiers and combatants from killing, harassing and abusing the population,'' Human Rights Watch researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg said in an e- mailed statement on Sept. 25.

Nkunda's CNDP denies it's involved in violence against civilians.

``These acts don't exist in our territory,'' CNDP spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa said today in a telephone interview from Mushaki, about 30 kilometers west of Goma.

Such violence is unavoidable in times of war, said Colonel Delphin Kahimbi, a senior government army commander in North Kivu.

``We are not able to check on all the little things that are happening while we fight the enemy,'' Kahimbi said in a Sept. 24 interview in Rugari, 35 kilometers north of Goma. ``In all wars this happens.''

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
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