Aid released amid cautious welcome for DRC deal

FRANCE and the Netherlands reacted swiftly on Saturday to a newly signed peace accord in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with the latter announcing millions of euro in aid to help stabilise the troubled east.

“It’s wonderful progress, but it’s not a magic bullet, it’s not over,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said of Wednesday’s agreement signed between rebel militias and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s government, aimed at ending conflict in the battered eastern provinces of Nord- and Sud-Kivu.

Kouchner spoke from Nord-Kivu’s regional capital, Goma, wrapping up a visit that included talks in Kinshasa with Congolese President Joseph Kabila.

Also on Saturday, the Netherlands announced it was earmarking $24 million (€16m) in assistance to help stabilise the eastern region, where months of conflict have displaced some 800,000 people.

To be distributed by the United Nations Development Programme, the funds “aim to offer the means necessary to meet the most immediate financial needs in the areas of security, the extension of state authority and infrastructure reconstruction”, Dutch Ambassador Ellen Berends-Vergunst said from Kinshasa. The aid brings to $64m (€44m) Dutch assistance offered to DRC since 2007.

In the “act of engagement” signed this week by the rebel movement of ex-general Laurent Nkunda, warring militias in the Kivu provinces and the government, all parties have agreed to stop fighting immediately and not to rearm.

The Congolese government, which officially declared a ceasefire in the east a day after the agreement, reiterated its peace engagement following a cabinet meeting on Friday.

A humanitarian commission is being finalised to help resolve the question of the return of those displaced by the conflict, it said. A draft bill will also be finalised by the next parliamentary session in March dealing with amnesty issues.

The peace deal was signed after peace talks in Goma that began on January 6.

Conflict and humanitarian crisis in the DRC have taken the lives of an estimated 5.4 million people since 1998 and continue to leave as many as 45,000 dead every month, according to a mortality survey released last week by the International Rescue Committee.

The latest mortality survey was conducted by the committee and the Burnet Institute and covers the period from January 2006 to April 2007. Researchers visited 14,000 households in 35 districts of Congo’s 11 provinces. The final toll combines figures from four previous mortality surveys with data from the latest study. The survey found that mortality remains highly elevated across the country.

“Since our last study in 2004, there’s been no change in the national rate, which is nearly 60% higher than the sub-Saharan average,” says Dr Richard Brennan, director of the commission’s global health programmes and one of the survey’s lead authors.

The survey period ended shortly after violence in eastern North-Kivu province began to escalate in December 2006.

Therefore, the study documents only a fraction of the recent unrest.

Overall, an estimated 727,000 people died in excess of normal mortality during the latest survey period. Nearly half of fatalities were among children under the age of five, even though they comprise only 19% of the total population.

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