World ignores Republic of Congo's crisis - U.N.
Less than 3 percent of funds needed to tackle a humanitarian emergency in the Republic of Congo have been received, highlighting the oil-producer's plight as a forgotten nation in crisis, the United Nations said.
Congo's civil war officially ended in 1999 but sub-Saharan Africa's fourth biggest oil producer has no peacekeeping force and is struggling to disarm former rebels who continue to attack civilians in the Pool region, far from international eyes.
"This is scandalous. We need to have a better response to this emergency," Aurelien Agbenonci, the head of the U.N. in Congo, told Reuters in an interview.
"Of the nearly $22 million needed, just over 20 percent has been promised and under three percent has actually been given," he said. "This is a low-level conflict which appears not to interest people as there is neither war nor peace."
Despite the official truce, clashes in 2002 and 2003 between government soldiers and the rebels, known as Ninjas, rocked the peace process and undermined a disarmament programme in the central African country of three million people.
Thousands of Ninjas, named after ancient Japanese warriors glamourised by Hollywood, who have not been disarmed and are no longer part of a structured rebel movement roam around the Pool region west of the capital Brazzaville.
Known for their trademark purple scarves and Rasta-style dreadlocks, the gunmen live off civilians and reguarly hijack the train that links the landlocked capital to the oil-producing coastal town of Pointe Noire.
There are no international peacekeepers in Congo, a former French colony, and analysts say the government seems unwilling, or unable, to put an end to the attacks in Pool.
The U.N. is due to open an office in Kinkala, a town at the heart of the Pool region, but Agbenonci said media attention on other conflicts around the world had taken its toll and the lack funds meant several aid agencies working in Pool may shut down.
"I also know many aid workers who used to work here but who have ended up being pulled out and sent to Darfur. This is very symbolic of our problem," he said.
According to the U.N., thousands were killed during Congo's war -- some put the toll as high as 10,000 -- and some 150,000 civilians fled the latest bout of violence in March 2003.
Although Congo is rich in oil, Pool is an economic backwater where many schools have remained closed for up to eight years, there are few health facilities and the road to the coast has been reduced to deeply rutted paths cut into the red soil.
Agbenonci said the humanitarian and economic woes of the region needed to be addressed to avoid reigniting the conflict.
"The stability of the Pool is the stability of the whole of Congo but it doesn't seem to be a priority. There are no resources in Pool, just its people," he said. "There is a very free flow of weapons, so there is still a risk of rebellion."
"This place is a time bomb we need to defuse."