UN to send Obasanjo on second Congo peace mission

KINSHASA, DR Congo (AFP) — Special envoy Olusegun Obasanjo will embark on a second peace mission to Congo this weekend, the UN said Tuesday, as AFP learnt of a row developing with Kinshasa over Indian peacekeeping troops.

Obasanjo, a former Nigerian president who undertook a first trip as UN envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo on November 15-16, will arrive in Kinshasa on Saturday and hold meetings with President Joseph Kabila, the UN said.

Obasanjo will then travel to Goma, capital of eastern Nord-Kivu province and the frontline of the conflict between Laurent Nkunda's rebels, the Congolese army and an assortment of militias.

A spokesman for the rebels confirmed the trip and said they were expecting Obasanjo on Sunday.

The announcement came as AFP was read a letter from the Congolese government to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking him not to send any more Indian troops to reinforce its peacekeeping mission.

India is not mentioned by name, but diplomatic sources told AFP there was no doubt the letter was referring to the large Indian contingent of MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission.

"In view of the numerous abuses of power carried out by certain troops within MONUC, the (Congolese) people would not understand if soldiers from the same country would be used to boost numbers within MONUC," says the letter, which was read to AFP by diplomatic sources.

Indian peacekeepers have been accused of sexual abuse and MONUC admitted in August that some Indian troops could have been involved.

The letter could prove a major diplomatic embarrassment to the UN. Some 90 percent of the peacekeepers patrolling the troubled Nord-Kivu region are from India and New Delhi is also providing assault helicopters for the mission.

The UN Security Council voted last Thursday to send 3,000 reinforcements to the country. Which countries will supply the extra troops and when is still to be undecided.

The UN has been criticised for failing to protect the estimated 250,000 displaced people by both the rebels and government forces.

Also on Tuesday, the United Nations refugee agency said it would start to transfer 30,000 vulnerable people from camps for safety reasons.

"Tens of thousands of displaced Congolese civilians in the Kibati camps are in a dangerous situation as the warring parties remain in close proximity," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman William Spindler.

The UNHCR had already warned of the plight of 67,000 people in the Kibati camps last week after a 20-year old woman was killed by a stray bullet during what residents described as a foiled attempt by soldiers to kidnap a girl.

"Soldiers also looted several huts and working premises of several NGOs working in the camp," Spindler said.

He said that the first transfers will see vulnerable, young, sick and elderly people moved by truck or on foot to existing camps on the western outskirts of the city of Goma, with UN peacekeepers providing security.

The UN also estimates that as many as 150,000 children have been prevented from going to school since the outbreak of the conflict.

Humanitarian groups have expressed concern over the plight of more than 250,000 people who have been displaced since fighting erupted between the rebels and government forces in August.

The UN's World Food Programme said it had distributed supplies to nearly 145,000 displaced people in the past week and aimed to provide aid to as many as 400,000, despite a lack of security and inclement weather.

The worsening situation saw Human Rights Watch and a number of other pressure groups wrote to UN Human Rights Council president Martin Uhomoibi earlier this month urging a special session and calling on the body to appoint an envoy to report on human rights in the region.

The Council agreed to hold a session and said it would take place this Friday. The decision followed a request tabled by France on behalf of EU countries and others including Argentina, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Switzerland and Ukraine.


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