Sunday, December 16, 2007

Congo displaced recruited to fight: U.N. refugee head

Congo displaced recruited to fight: U.N. refugee head

GOMA, Congo (Reuters) - Armed groups in eastern Congo are recruiting fighters in camps for those displaced by violence, the U.N. refugee chief said on Sunday, as diplomats tried to revive a peace plan that has failed to halt fighting.

Violence has forced nearly one in six people in Congo's violent North Kivu province from their homes, and tens of thousands have been displaced in the past fortnight by fighting between the army and renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda.

In the ramshackle camps where they shelter, civilians are still not safe from being pressed to join armed factions in a conflict where human rights groups have accused all sides of recruiting child soldiers -- a feature of Congo's 1998-2003 war.

"Members of armed groups as well as members of the national army go into the camps. It is necessary for the protection of the civilian population that the camps are kept arms-free," said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

"There is recruitment of young people in the camps. This is not acceptable," Guterres told reporters in North Kivu's capital Goma after a two-day trip in which he visited camps and heard harrowing accounts from civilians caught up in the fighting.

As Guterres continued his journey to Congo's capital Kinshasa, diplomats met in Goma to try to breathe life into a peace plan to end the fighting, which also involves armed groups like Congo's Mai Mai traditional militia and Rwandan Interahamwe Hutu fighters accused of leading their country's 1994 genocide.


The Congolese and Rwandan foreign ministers agreed in Nairobi, Kenya, in early November that Congo's army would forcibly disarm the Interahamwe and other Hutu fighters who belonged to Rwanda's army before the genocide.

Rwanda's Tutsi-led government agreed in return to seal the border and armed groups, in particular Nkunda's mostly Tutsi fighters, did not receive help from across the border.

Leading diplomats, including U.S. State Department Special Envoy Tim Shortley, agreed on Sunday to create a Goma-based task force within a week to follow implementation of the Nairobi accord, said Haile Menkerios, U.N. assistant secretary general for political affairs, who was at the meeting.

"It was good as a first meeting. It was not a matter of agreeing, but on how to implement the Nairobi declaration. A master plan has been handed over to Rwanda. We are ready. We are going to do disarm them in March," Congolese Defence Minister Tshikez Djemu said, referring to Rwandan Hutu militia.

Violence flared in North Kivu in the past fortnight when Congo's army launched an offensive against Nkunda, only to be beaten back in fighting that forced around 60,000 civilians to flee, adding to a human tide of displaced civilians.

"The biggest challenge of course is that we are all out of proportion with our resources, with our capacity in relation to the dimensions of the problem," Guterres said on Saturday during a visit to one of the camps, where displaced families huddle beneath shelters improvised from plastic sheeting.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home