UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate ceasefire today to urgently help “at least 100,000 refugees” cut off by fighting in rebel-held areas in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He said 250,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in eastern DR Congo and for 100,000 trapped behind rebel lines around Rutshuru and East Masisi the “lifeline has been cut off.”
“Because of the ongoing fighting, these people have received virtually no assistance. Their situation has grown increasingly desperate,” Mr Ban said.
“I urgently call for an immediate ceasefire in these areas to allow humanitarian assistance to reach many thousands of displaced persons.”
Calling the situation “dire,” the secretary-general also said he was mobilising all UN humanitarian agencies “to find necessary humanitarian assistance” to help those who have received no aid.
Meanwhile, a cholera outbreak in a sprawling refugee camp spread to eastern DR Congo’s provincial capital of Goma, is increasing fears of an epidemic.
Cholera cases rose slightly yesterday in the towns of Goma and Kibati, with at least 90 known cases and six new admissions overnight.
Doctors Without Borders said the cases it was treating were well-contained. Only four new ones were reported at the group’s clinic in Kibati camp.
But dozens of people have died of cholera in recent weeks elsewhere in eastern Dr Congo. Doctors also fear an epidemic behind rebel lines, where access has been limited by fighting and rebels have driven tens of thousands of people from camps where outbreaks had been contained.
Mr Ban returned from a summit in Nairobi last week that had called on all armed groups in the North Kivu province to observe an immediate ceasefire.
But now the UN chief expressed the most worry about the refugees in areas north of Goma, chiefly around Rutshuru and East Masisi, who he described as trapped behind rebel lines.
“Despite the Nairobi declaration, there are continued reports of sporadic fighting,” Mr Ban said. “I am very concerned by reports of targeted killings of civilians, looting and rape.”
So far, UN agencies have been delivering food, medicine, fresh water and sanitation supplies, but only to “areas where they can operate, most particularly in Goma,” Mr Ban said.
Rebel forces led by Laurent Nkunda, who did not participate in last week’s summit, fought their way in late August towards Goma, then stopped just outside the city and declared a ceasefire two weeks ago.
A UN mission has been investigating reports of massacres, including a large number civilians targeted. It visited 11 burial sites that witnesses said contained 26 bodies of combatants and civilians, Mr Ban’s spokeswoman, Michele Montas, said.
Ban said 3,000 more UN peacekeeping soldiers are urgently needed to bolster the 17,000-strong UN force in Congo that has done little to prevent the rebels’ advance.
The UN Security Council planned to take up Mr Ban’s request later today.