African crises escalate as AU leaders meet in Libya

1.4 million homeless so far this year – five people forced to flee every minute of 2009, says Oxfam

Over 1.4 million people have been forced to flee their homes so far this year as a result of significant increasing violence in DR Congo, Sudan and Somalia, international agency Oxfam said today, as heads of state gather at the AU Summit in Libya to discuss peace and security across the continent.

At the last AU Summit, in January 2009, leaders failed to address these ongoing conflicts or take measures to protect civilians from violence and suffering, Oxfam said. Since then, violence in eastern DRC, south-central Somalia and southern Sudan has escalated even further and countless more lives have been destroyed. The rest of the international community has been equally ineffective.

“Every minute of every day since AU leaders last met has seen the equivalent of a family of five made homeless by these conflicts. The AU must unequivocally condemn such suffering. It is unacceptable that right now African women continue to be raped, men killed, families torn apart and the lives of generations of children are shattered,” said Desire Assogbavi, Oxfam's Senior Africa Policy Analyst.

Oxfam called on the AU to put renewed emphasis on sustainable diplomatic and political solutions to these conflicts, rather than military actions that bring yet more death and misery for civilians, such as this year's offensives in DR Congo and northern Uganda. It said the AU had in the past played a key role in forging the peace agreement between northern and southern Sudan, which although now facing serious challenges, demonstrates what can be achieved when there is sufficient political will.

DR Congo has seen the highest levels of displacement since the start of the year. Up to 800,000 people in eastern DRC have fled as a result of a new UN-backed military offensive by the Congolese army, which began in January and has led to numerous reprisal attacks by FDLR rebels. Terrified communities have told Oxfam staff of widespread rape, and burning and looting of villages in North and South Kivu.

"The AU must tell the Congolese government that such massive suffering will not be tolerated. While FDLR atrocities must be addressed, government troops are also committing unacceptable human rights violations,” said Assogbavi.

In the past six months, southern Sudan has seen some of the worst violence and displacement since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Around 200,000 people have fled increasingly deadly conflicts linked to tribal clashes, cattle raids and North-South tensions. Meanwhile, Darfur remains the scene of one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises, and the ongoing conflict has displaced at least 140,000 people so far this year – most fleeing to already severely overcrowded camps, and now receiving even less aid following the recent expulsion of humanitarian agencies.

“With the peace agreement looking increasingly fragile, urgent diplomatic attention is needed. AU governments played a key role in forging the peace deal - they must now help keep it alive. A return to war would have devastating consequences not only for Sudan but all its neighbors,” said Assogbavi.

Tens of thousands more people have also been made homeless in northern DR Congo and southern Sudan by ongoing attacks from northern Uganda’s Lords Resistance Army. A joint military offensive against the LRA launched in late 2008 has failed to halt its attacks on civilians.

In Somalia, 160,000 people have fled the capital Mogadishu since May, after an upsurge in fighting between the Transitional Federal Government and opposition groups and militia. Most are sheltering in vast camps around the city, where conditions are dire as deteriorating security makes it harder than ever for aid agencies to reach people in need. Oxfam called on the AU to urge all parties to the conflict to respect international law, cease fighting in populated areas, and allow the safe delivery of aid.

“Peace and security in Africa has made great strides forward over the past decade – there are now fewer conflicts across the continent, and African peacekeepers have intervened to protect civilians. However, the ongoing humanitarian suffering and conflicts in these three countries are delivering a fatal blow to the hopes of a peaceful and prosperous future for Africa. The AU must step up and challenge those that are responsible, and say that enough is enough,” said Assogbavi.

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