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DR CONGO: Uneasy Calm After Fighting in Northwest

Emmanuel Chaco

MBANDAKA, DR Congo, Apr 15 2010 (IPS) - Fighting between “Enyélé” insurgents and regular armed forces in the northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo at the beginning of April left 18 people dead, including nine rebels, and triggered mass displacements from the region’s principal city, Mbandaka.

Joint U.N.-Congolese army patrol: fighting near Mbandaka has abated, but in neighbouring Orientale Province 5,000 people are trapped in a war zone. Credit:  Richard Pituwa/IPS

Joint U.N.-Congolese army patrol: fighting near Mbandaka has abated, but in neighbouring Orientale Province 5,000 people are trapped in a war zone. Credit: Richard Pituwa/IPS

On Apr. 8, President Joseph Kabila presided over a Security Council meeting in Mbandaka in Équateur Province.

But according to Julius Bula, a council official in Mbandaka, the people who had fled on Apr. 4 and 5, had already begun returning to their homes by Apr. 6. He said the displaced had come mostly from the neighborhoods: Basoko, Sokozelo and Ikongowasa.

UN sources say the displaced – mostly self-employed in the informal sector running small shops, transport and fishing businesses – are returning to face a disastrous humanitarian situation, with economic activity at a near-standstill while insecurity remains.

“I have no choice. All my business is in Mbandaka and I had to return despite the insecurity and economic crisis we’re going through,” John Iyokwa, who sells smoked fish near the airport, told IPS. Iyokwa fled rebel attacks on Apr. 5. The insurgents occupied the airport for several hours before being expelled.

“Despite the fear, I think no one can stay in hiding for long. We have to work to live and clear away the signs of war in the city. Even government officials have reopened their offices in spite of fear since they too have to make ends meet,” Iyokwa said.

“The humanitarian situation of the city is chaotic. A number of homes have been destroyed by shells, many neighborhoods have had their electricity cut off, and hunger is on the rise due to markets not having resumed normal activities. Fishermen have not gone out since a week ago,” said Papy Bolongo, a resident of the Mbandaka neighborhood of Ikongowasa.

Christine Walo, a member of Équateur civil society said prices have doubled or even tripled. “All of this increases the number of hungry people and people who can’t access essential items.”

Walo added: “Those with money make reserves and buy up almost all the existing stock. The impression is that of people preparing for an upcoming war, which exacerbates insecurity and psychosis. Meanwhile the government is asking MONUC forces to leave the country whereas throughout the province MONUC is the only institution close to the civilian population.”

MONUC is the 20,000 member United Nations peacekeeping mission in DRC, first deployed to help the government in Kinshasa re-establish control in the north and east of the country and maintain a ceasefire with Uganda and Rwanda in 2001. Its effectiveness has been challenged from various quarters, and DRC president Kabila has said he wants the U.N. mission to be terminated by the end of June.

A U.N. report produced in November 2009 said that MONUC had not succeeded in reducing armed conflict in DRC and it would be premature to withdraw it.

Walo agrees. “It was once again Congolese soldiers, backed by MONUC soldiers against the Enyélé, who looted civilian property,” she adds.

On Apr. 8, a group of soldiers accused of looting and abuses against civilians during the recent conflict went on trial before a military court.

After a joint delegation of the FARDC and MONUC visited Mbandaka on Apr. 6, led by Didier Etumba and Babacar Gaye, respectively High Commander of the Congolese armed forces and Commander in Chief of MONUC forces, the government decided to provide additional support to the population.

The government also intends to hold a Council of Ministers soon, to address the security situation in the province.

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