Oxfam calls for EU troops to support UN peacekeepers in Congo

“The situation is currently too unstable to reach many of the people who have fled to escape the fighting”
Juliette Prodhan
Head of Oxfam in Congo
Published: 2 November 2008

European ministers meeting in Marseille tomorrow (Monday, 3 November) must agree to provide European troops to support the UN peacekeeping force in eastern Congo.

While the ceasefire declared by General Laurent Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) is holding, it is very precarious and the situation is still very tense.  With thousands of people displaced in inaccessible areas outside the town of Goma, it is difficult for aid agencies to provide help to those that desperately need it.

Additional troops would assist the UN peacekeeping force, MONUC in the essential task of keeping the people of Congo safe. MONUC was already stretched before the recent round of intense fighting began and has clearly struggled to maintain security. With insecurity elsewhere in the Kivu provinces and eastern Congo, there is a serious risk that redeployment of troops from these areas to Goma would leave these civilians vulnerable to attack.

“The European Union is well placed to rapidly provide the additional troops that the people of Congo desperately need.   Given the fragility of the ceasefire and fears for another outbreak of intense fighting around Goma, more troops must be deployed as soon as possible,” said Juliette Prodhan, head of Oxfam in Congo.

The European troops should work in close consultation with local communities and agencies working to help vulnerable people. Their role should not be to provide aid directly -- what they can do is help to create a secure environment where people are safe from attack and humanitarian agencies can get assistance to people who so desperately need it.

Deployment of European troops should be combined with sustained diplomatic pressure to achieve a political solution to the conflict and immediate steps to improve MONUC’s ability to protect civilians. Oxfam is calling for a high-level special envoy to be immediately appointed to unify international peace efforts and address the underlying causes of the conflict.

“Political engagement at the highest level is needed to unify diplomatic activities we have seen over the weekend.   Agreements have been signed in the past by all those involved in the conflict. Inconsistent support by world leaders has contributed to their failure. A high-level envoy can provide the leadership to ensure that the world does not look away from Congo as it has done so many times before,” said Prodhan.

Oxfam today started trucking water to people sheltering in the area of Kanyabayonga, north of Goma and continues to provide water and sanitation to 65,000 people in four camps in Goma.

“The situation is currently too unstable to reach many of the people who have fled to escape the fighting. They are dispersed over a wide, inhospitable area. Many are hiding in the forests and bush without access to shelter, water, food and medicines. We need to be able to get there so that we can help them,” said Prodhan.