Thousands of new UN peacekeeping troops should arrive in Congo within weeks, it was announced today.
UN spokesman Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich said the UN approval to send 3,100 more troops “shows the solidarity of the family of nations with the Congolese people, especially with the hundreds of thousands of people who are internally displaced.”
Countries have not yet decided who will contribute. Several African nations such as Senegal, Kenya and Angola could send extra troops, diplomats at the Security Council said.
Col. Dietrich said he did not know where the peacekeepers would be coming from but “hopefully they will come within the next weeks.”
He said they would be used as mobile forces joining the 17,000 peacekeeping soldiers and police who are spread thinly in the vast nation the size of Western Europe and who have been unable to stop a recent surge in fighting led by a rebel advance.
At least a quarter of a million people have been forced from their homes in eastern Congo as the peacekeepers have been unable to fulfil their main mandate of protecting civilians.
In one sign of a return to some normalcy, the UN Children’s Fund reported that two schools that were filled with refugees have reopened at Kibati, just outside the eastern provincial capital of Goma.
The agency said it was distributing material for 1,000 students there Friday. But some 85% of schools remain closed further north around the town of Rutshuru, interrupting education for 150,000 children, it said.
Milk supplies to help hundreds of malnourished refugee children was being airlifted by UN helicopter to Kanyabayonga and Kayna, on the front line between government and rebel troops between Goma and Rutshuru.
“Thousands of people (are) hiding in the bush after fleeing Kayna; logistics and insecurity are preventing access; (there is a) very high risk of child deaths due to malnutrition, malaria, respiratory infections,” a UNICEF spokesman said.
Years of sporadic violence in eastern Congo intensified in August, when fighting heated up between the army and fighters loyal to rebel leader Laurent Nkunda.
Nkunda says he is protecting Tutsis from Hutus who fled to Congo after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. But critics say he is more interested in power and accuse his forces of committing multiple human rights abuses. Congo’s army and other militias also are accused of abuses.
Some fear the current crisis could once again draw in neighbouring countries. Congo’s devastating 1998-2002 war split the vast nation into rival fiefdoms and involved half a dozen African armies.