Congo Watch: April 2005

Saturday, April 23, 2005

World ignores Republic of Congo's crisis - U.N.

Report by David Lewis in Kinkala, Congo, via Reuters 23 Apr 2005:

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."

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Bush Holds Talks with Rwandan Leader at White House

MONUC newswire report via VOA 16 April, 2005:

President Bush met with Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the White House to discuss efforts to bring peace to Central Africa's troubled Great Lakes region.

They also discussed a host of other regional issues from peacekeeping in southern Sudan and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo to helping bring elections to Burundi.

On all, the Rwandan leader says Mr. Bush vowed to continue his engagement in African affairs. "We requested the president to use his powers to help Africa in different ways, in socioeconomic development, in assuring there is peace and security not only in our region but also in the whole continent. And the president was very supportive of that," he said.

The two presidents also discussed the possible return to Rwanda of ethnic Hutu involved in the country's 1994 genocide of ethnic minority Tutsi.

Many of those responsible for that violence fled to what was then Zaire and continued to destabilize the provinces of North and South Kivu.

Now, some of those former fighters say they are renouncing violence, condemning genocide, and are ready to return home.

Bush administration officials this week welcomed that declaration, urging rebels to demonstrate their commitment to peace by turning over all weapons to U.N. monitors in Congo and proceed without delay to organize their return to Rwanda.

President Kagame, who led a Tutsi rebellion to stop the genocide, says those former adversaries will be welcomed home. "They made a wrong choice of staying in the bush in Congo and earlier on made the wrong choice of associating themselves with the ideology of genocide. We did talk about their offer to disarm and return home, and we will facilitate that," he said.

Ending insecurity in eastern Congo is the biggest reason given by Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda for involving themselves in two civil wars in Congo in the last ten years.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

MONUC: 10,000 militiamen have been disarmed in DRC

DRC Monitoring 4/04/2005 Tom Tshibangu/MONUC:

About 10,000 militiamen have been disarmed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to MONUC.

The disarmament process officially ended on April 1st, and ever since, all militiamen who have not surrendered their weapons are regarded as enemies by UN peacekeepers.

Yesterday, UPC, one of the militias still active in Ituri, distanced itself from its most radical elements. As a result, UPC regards all militiamen who refuse to surrender arms as outlaws. This is the first time the UPC leadership commits itself to demobilisation this clearly. At the same time, 500 elements of the FAPC were disarming in the locality of Montawa in Ituri. RFI's special envoy Pauline Simonet was there witnessing this.

(Pauline Simonet): Their weapons pointed at the sky, the FAPC militiamen are happy to lay down their weapons in the Montawa camp. When their names are called, they will each step forward in turn to hand over their weapons to the UN peacekeepers and members of the National Commission for Disarmament (CONADER) who register them.

Among the ex-militiamen, a sad-faced 25-year-old woman, Nzale Mukavu, is also participating in the disarmament process. She had been used as as sex slave. "In the army, as I'm a girl, I was always disturbed. There are times when, even without your consent, you must obey your commander's orders." And if for example, a commander wants to have sex, can't you refuse? "You cannot. If you refuse, they will beat you. And eventually I had two children in the army"

After laying down their weapons, the ex-militiamen are sent to the transit camp at Aru, 20 km away, where they must spend 4 days being sensitised. They have the choice between two options: civilian and military life. Those who opt for civilian life are given some basic commodities and $50 to help ease their reintegration. One of them is Bratoto Zaki, a 28-year-old man. According to him, there are still numerous militiamen out there who resist the disarmament process.

"It is better to continue sensitising the others who are not here in Congo, who have fled to Uganda and Sudan. Or others who have hidden their weapons in their villages. People need to be sensitised so that they come to hand over their arms as we have done."

Two reintegration projects are to be put in place notably by UNDP, but NGOs deplore the slowness in setting up these projects.

http://www.monuc.org/news.aspx?newsID=6442

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

PAP Missions to Probe Ivory Coast, DRC Conflicts

April 12, 2005 report via AllAfrica by Matome Sebelebele in Pretoria:

Two Pan African Parliament (PAP) missions will pay separate visits to the conflict-ridden Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) next month, to assess the situation there.

The teams will then report back and make recommendations to PAP and subsequently to the African Union (AU) on ways to help the two nations attain peace after millions of people there were killed, raped and displaced, further fueling the humanitarian crisis there.

This emerged at the final day of the African Parliament's third session held in Johannesburg, yesterday.

The high-powered missions are however yet to be announced.

Amongst other things, the continental body has vowed to mount pressure on outstanding African countries to accede to the self-imposing African Peer Review Mechanism, seen by many as a crucial instrument in holding leaders accountable for underdevelopment and maladministration.

To this end, the institution has praised President Thabo Mbeki for his fruitful mediation role in Ivory Coast, saying it was "pleased" to note the successful conclusion of long-running talks.

The once-prosperous cocoa producing country is emerging from a tit-for-tat two year-old conflict that saw President Laurent Gbagbo fighting off rebels in a power struggle, widely claimed to be perpetuated by the former French colonial masters.

The delegates agreed in Tshwane last week to disarm rebel forces and militias as well as settling a dispute over citizenship requirements for candidates to the presidency, which was used to bar main opposition leader Alassane Ouattara from running for elections in this regard the last time.

However a key sticking point - Article 35 of that country's constitution that stipulates that both parents of a presidential candidate must be Ivorian - has been left hanging for the moment.

Speaking to reporters after two weeks of deliberations, PAP president Gertrude Mongella said the Parliament sought to have its own report to further give it a clear picture on the ground.

The mission will be the second such following the one on Darfur that expressed concerns at the repeated violations of ceasefire agreements, stalled Abuja peace talks and the growing humanitarian crisis in the region.

In its report, the seven-member Darfur mission, headed by Ugandan Adbul Katuntu, urged PAP to sound a call on the Sudanese government to "immediately" disarm the Janjaweed rebels blamed for undermining peace agreements there, which MPs argued were not party to.

The report however painted a picture of a distressed population besieged by fear and distrust of the authority, of displaced people living under "inhumane conditions", calling for PAP to set up a trust fund for humanitarian assistance as well as an ad hoc committee on Darfur.

Meanwhile, PAP has thrown its weight behind the United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, who today received a report on Sudan's reconstruction and developmental needs from Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the International Donor Conference in Oslo, Norway.

On a coup in Togo, MPs took their hats off for Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo's "courageous and principled action" by halting an unconstitutional take over of government there.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Congo seeks reparations from Uganda at World Court

Thanks to Carine at ::the.exiled.afrikan:: for pointing out the following report - via Reuters by Paul Gallagher (additional reporting by David Lewis in Kinshasa) dated April 11, 2005:

Congo seeks reparations from Uganda at World Court

Photo: A De Beers employee holds the largest uncut diamond ever displayed in Canada. The 616-carat Dutoitspan diamond, discovered in Kimberley, South Africa, is too flawed to cut and is valued at US$3 million. Stringer photo.

THE HAGUE, April 11 (Reuters) - The Democratic Republic of Congo accused Uganda on Monday of "massive" human rights abuses, looting and destruction in a war on its territory and demanded compensation from its neighbour at the World Court.

The Congo -- rich in gold, diamonds and timber -- was the battleground for rebels, local factions, tribes and neighbouring countries, including Uganda, in a 1998-2003 war in which 4 million people died, mainly from hunger and disease.

"Uganda played a considerable role in the murderous war which tore apart the Congo for five years," Congolese representative Maitre Tshibangu Kalala told the court at the start of public hearings on Monday.

Congo took Uganda to the World Court in 1999, accusing it of responsibility for human rights abuses and "armed aggression". It called for compensation for what it said were acts of looting, destruction and removal of property.

Congo says Uganda committed "violations of international humanitarian law and massive human rights violations", the World Court said in a statement.

Cases at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, can take years to be completed. The court is the U.N.'s highest and its ruling in the case will be final and not subject to appeal.

Uganda has filed a counter claim, accusing Congo of responsibility for attacks on Ugandan citizens and diplomatic buildings in Kinshasa and unspecified acts of aggression against Uganda.

A Ugandan representative declined to comment on the case and said his country would outline its position on Friday.

Congo's Justice Minister Kisimba Ngoy was quoted by U.N. radio as saying reparations could amounts to billions of dollars.

CHANGING MOTIVES

Rwanda and Uganda invaded Congo after rebel factions backed by them took up arms in 1998 to topple the late President Laurent Kabila, who was supported by Namibia, Angola and Zimbabwe.

A ceasefire was negotiated in 1999 and Ugandan troops finally pulled out in 2002.

A U.N. report in November 2001 said the initial motivation for Rwanda and Uganda to intervene in the central African nation had been to secure their borders.

But over time the lure of natural resources became the primary motive for staying in many areas of the former Zaire and perpetuating the warfare, the report said.

U.N. officials have accused Ugandan commanders of stealing gold, diamonds and timber, although Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has rebuffed such charges, saying there is nothing of value in the country to exploit.

Under a 2003 peace deal, a power-sharing government was set up to shepherd the Congo to elections this year, but armed groups still rule much of the country as local strongmen protect privileges built up during the war.

Uganda, Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Congo pledged in September 2002 to stop interfering in each other's affairs in a new regional bid to end Congo's war.

But a U.N.-commissioned report in January singled out Uganda for failing to control cross-border trade into the Congo's lawless northeastern district of Ituri, where warlords prosper amid a local conflict that has killed 60,000 people since 1999.

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L11204656.htm
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Ugandan army soldiers display weapons captured from LRA

Photo: Ugandan army soldiers display weapons captured from the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) in Kipwayi hills, some 50 miles inside Sudan near the border with Uganda. US lawmakers called for greater international efforts to bring peace to northern Uganda and stop the exploitation of children by opposition rebels there. (AFP/File/Peter Busomoke) April 7, 2005.

Uganda in court over DRC claims

Uganda is accused of massacring Congolese civilians writes Geraldine Coughlan at BBC News from The Hague, April 11, 2005. Here is a copy of her report:

The International Court of Justice at The Hague is starting to hear a complaint filed by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) against Uganda.

The DRC accuses its neighbour of invading its territory, committing human rights violations and massacring Congolese civilians. It is also demanding reparations for destruction and looting allegedly carried out by Ugandan troops.

Uganda denies the claims and accuses the DRC of acts of aggression.

In 1999 the DRC asked the court to put a stop to acts of aggression by Uganda, which it said were a serious threat to peace and security in central Africa. In a provisional ruling in 2000, the Court ordered both sides to refrain from any conflict - which could aggravate the case.

Last year, the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda started peace negotiations.

The DRC filed a similar complaint against Rwanda with the World Court in 2002.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

DR Congo's atrocious secret

Here is a copy of a report by the BBC's excellent Africa correspondent, Hilary Andersson who did award-worthy reporting on Darfur, Sudan.

Despite a peace deal signed two years ago to end the long-running civil war, violence is continuing in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. And in the province of Ituri, Hilary Andersson finds evidence of cannibalism by some rebels:

There is a part of the world where atrocities go beyond all normal bounds, where evil seems to congregate. Almost everyone who has ever worked there will know where I am talking of. The area is not very large on the map of Africa. But the region in and north of the forests of central Africa has hosted Rwanda's genocide, the massacres in Burundi, the devastation of southern Sudan, the mutilations in Uganda, and the atrocities of the north-eastern Congo.

And so I had the usual feeling of dread when we flew into the area on this trip. We left the acacia-lined, sunswept plains of east Africa and, as we approached, the sky began to darken. We began to descend through black clouds that hugged the huge forests below. We landed in a ferocious rainstorm in the small town of Bunia in the north-east of the Congo.

'Hole in Africa's heart'

The Congo is a vast territory, the size of western Europe. The war is not about any principle at all, violence has just moved in where there is no authority But it has been called the hole in the heart of Africa, because much of it is a giant power vacuum.

In the north-east, at least seven warlords are locked in brutal scramble for personal power and control. Lots of the fighters are children. Rape is more widespread than possibly anywhere else on Earth. And the war is not about any principle at all, violence has just moved in where there is no authority.

Mutilation

We visited a refugee camp set in a small valley, a piece of land like a basin. Around its rims the United Nations patrolled to keep the militia out. It reminded me of the atrocities in Bosnia, where at a certain point individuals turned into human devils.

In an afternoon every person we spoke to, without exception, had witnessed not just killing but horrific mutilation. The children had sunken, troubled eyes. The women looked exhausted and the men were bursting with what they had to tell. Their relatives had their hearts ripped out, their heads cut off, their sexual organs removed. This, it seemed, was the standard way of killing here. Why? You want to know why?

Yes there is war, but this is different. This is not just killing, or taking territory. It is deliberate mutilation on a scale that makes you reel with horror. It reminded me of the atrocities in Bosnia, where at a certain point individuals turned into human devils, bent on doing not just the worst they could but the most atrocious.

Militia attack

We met a woman who I will call Kavuo, not her real name. Survivors of militia attacks remain in hiding for fear of further violence. To talk to her about her story we had to travel to a remote location in the jungle, where we could not be seen or heard by others. What she had to speak of is an atrocity shrouded in secrecy here, an atrocity. It is taboo to even speak of it.

The events she told me about happened two years ago and hers was one of the first public testimonies of its kind. Kavuo was on the run with her husband, her four children and three other couples. They had spent the night in a hut, and got up in the morning to keep moving. But they had barely left the hut when six militia men accosted them. Kavuo and the women were ordered to lie with their faces on the ground. The militia ordered Kavuo's husband and the other men to collect firewood. Then the women were told to say goodbye to their husbands. They obeyed.

The militia then began to kill the men one by one. Kavuo's husband was third. Her testimony is that the militia men lit a fire and put an old oil drum, cut into two, on the flames. I will omit other details. But Kavuo says the militia cooked her husbands parts in the drums and ate them.

Beliefs perverted

Those who have studied the region say cannibalism has a history there but as a specific animist ritual, carried out only in exceptional circumstances. Fighters told us that those who carry out such acts believe it makes them stronger. What has happened now is that the war has turned Congo's society upside-down.

Warlords are exploiting this, and perverting existing beliefs for their own ends. Fighters told us that those who carry out such acts believe it makes them stronger. Some believe they are literally taking spiritual power from their victims. That once they have eaten, they have the power of the enemy. These atrocities are also designed to instil utter fear into the enemy.

Anarchy

It is estimated that four million people have died in the Congo as a result of the long running war. That is truly staggering. It is more than those killed by Cambodia's Pol Pot and more than those killed in Rwanda. Most people have died of hunger and disease that the violence has left in its wake.

Kavuo lost four of her children to illness and malnutrition even before her husband was killed. Now she lives in a remote village in the forest, and cannot afford to look after her surviving children. If this is her story, imagine how many others are like it and the numbers begin to make a horrifying sort of sense.

As we flew out of the Congo, I could see the vast forests below, thick with trees, infested with malaria, and barely accessible. A huge area that few outsiders venture into an area where evils happen that are rarely reported.

The blood red sunsets, the streaks of black clouds a weird sort of echo. Anarchy is not just a word. In the north-eastern Congo we saw its reality. What is happening there is proof of the scale of devastation that chaos can invite, and of the terrifying human capacity for unleashing deliberate evil on the innocent.

[This was broadcast on Thursday, 7 April, 2005 at 1100 BST on BBC Radio 4]
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/4424909.stm

Thursday, April 07, 2005

DRC: World's Most Neglected Emergency

Here is a copy of a post at the new IRC blog [see the amazing photo Kathleen Sands has published at her post]:

The IRC and sister agencies are calling the ongoing crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo "the world's most neglected emergency," pushing for a stronger mandate for U.N. peacekeepers in the country.

Despite a tenuous peace agreement and the installation of a transitional government in 2003, much of this huge country remains dangerously insecure.

The U.N. Security Council's vote last week to extend the peacekeepers' mission in Congo comes at time of increasing violence. The ongoing insecurity and a widespread breakdown of the overall health infrastructure mean that over 30,000 people are dying every month from easily preventable and treatable diseases.

"The international response to the humanitarian crisis in Congo has been grossly inadequate in proportion to need," says IRC's health director, Dr. Rick Brennan. "Our findings show that improving and maintaining security and increasing simple, proven and cost-effective interventions such as clean water, immunizations and basic medical care would save hundreds of thousands of lives in Congo.

"There's no shortage of evidence. It's sustained compassion and political will that is lacking."

Posted By: Kathleen Sands | Africa, Emergency Response, Health

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court opens its first investigation: DRC

Just for the record, here is a copy of an Article at the International Criminal Court, re DRC:

The Hague, 23 June 2004

The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, announced his decision to open the first investigation of the ICC. The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) will investigate grave crimes allegedly committed on the territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since 1 July 2002. The decision to open an investigation was taken after thorough consideration of the jurisdiction and admissibility requirements of the Rome Statute. The Prosecutor has concluded that an investigation of grave crimes in the DRC will be in the interest of justice and of the victims.

The OTP has been closely analyzing the situation in the DRC since July 2003, initially with a focus on crimes committed in the Ituri region. In September 2003 the Prosecutor informed the States Parties that he was ready to request authorization from the Pre-Trial Chamber to use his own powers to start an investigation, but that a referral and active support from the DRC would assist his work. In a letter in November 2003 the government of the DRC welcomed the involvement of the ICC and in March 2004 the DRC referred the situation in the country to the Court.

Millions of civilians have died as a result of conflict in the DRC since the 1990s. The Court's jurisdiction extends to crimes committed after 1 July 2002, when the Rome Statute of the ICC came into force. States, international organizations and non-governmental organizations have reported thousands of deaths by mass murder and summary execution in the DRC since 2002. The reports allege a pattern of rape, torture, forced displacement and the illegal use of child soldiers.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, said:

"The opening of the first investigation of the ICC is a major step forward for international justice, against impunity and for the protection of victims. The decision to launch an investigation has been taken with the cooperation of the DRC, other governments and international organizations."

The Chief Prosecutor underscored his intention to focus the investigation on the perpetrators most responsible for grave crimes under the jurisdiction of the ICC now being committed in the DRC.

Since the Chief Prosecutor assumed office last year the OTP has grown from 7 staff members to 55 members today. By the end of 2004 it is expected to grow further to some 120 members. The investigative staff of the OTP, headed by Deputy Prosecutor Serge Brammertz, includes professionals and NGO investigators with an international background.

The Rome Statute of the ICC makes a distinction between a preliminary analysis and a formal investigation of a situation where crimes under the Court's jurisdiction are allegedly being committed. Before initiating an investigation the Prosecutor must analyze the available information and ensure that the conditions laid down in the Rome Statute are satisfied.

For questions and further information please contact Christian Palme, Media Relations Officer of the OTP. He can be reached at + 31 (0) 70 515 8487 (office) or + 31 (0) 64 616 3997 (mobile).

Saturday, April 02, 2005

UN attacks DR Congo militia camps

From BBC News online April 2, 2005:

The United Nations military in the Democratic Republic of Congo have carried out an attack on militiamen who refused to surrender their weapons.

A UN battalion backed by helicopters targeted two rebel camps south-west of the main town of Bunia in Ituri region.

"Shots were exchanged... , a number of militiamen fled with the arrival of the UN forces," the UN mission in the DR Congo (Monuc), said in a statement.

It gave no details on any arrests or weapons seized.

Col Hussein Mahmoud, the deputy force commander, said earlier the operation would send a message to other militias that the UN would destroy all their camps.

It was intended to show "we mean business", Col Mahmoud said.

The UN vowed to take a tough line against Ituri's warring ethnic militia after a disarmament deadline expired, with fewer than half of 15,000 fighters giving up their weapons.

Child soldiers

Col Mahmoud has accused the militias - from the Lendu tribe - of committing an appalling catalogue of murder and rape.

Vicious ethnic warfare, fuelled by ready access to weapons, has cost the lives of tens of thousands of civilians in the province.

UN envoys had twice urged the militiamen to join the disarmament process - agreed to by the main militia groups in Ituri last September - but they refused.

Half the fighters in the eastern Ituri region are under 18 years old and some are as young as eight, UN officials say.

They have been caught up in ethnic violence that has left many civilians dead and many more homeless.

Some leaders have been rewarded with high-ranking posts in the new integrated Congolese army, the BBC's Ishbel Matheson in Ituri says.

But other powerful warlords have dragged their feet over the weapons surrender, our correspondent says.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4403841.stm

U.N. gets tough as militias terrorize eastern Congo

April 1 2005 report via MONUC:

Goma/Nairobi (dpa) - Criticised as ineffective, the United Nations mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo has rung up yet another defeat.

Overnight Friday, the deadline passed for the voluntary disarmament of the country's militias and not even half of the 15,000 fighters in eastern Congo's strife-ridden Ituri region had handed in their weapons.

In reality, disarming militias was not the job of U.N. peacekeepers but of the new Congolese army.

Alas, that army does not exist, so the militias have been left to terrorize the civilian population.

"The worst humanitarian catastrophe is currently happening here,'' says Johannes Wedenig of the U.N. children's aid group UNICEF in the eastern city of Goma.

Yet because the political situation is so complicated and the conflict so long in running, the situation never features prominently in the media.

In contrast, the Darfur conflict in western Sudan, where there are relatively clear fronts, has moved donor nations in the past year to spend profusely. The international community donates 89 dollars a person for Sudan and 3.2 dollars for every Congolese.

In the east of the Congo, a huge country the size of western Europe, around 800,000 people have fled their villages. According to estimates of the International Rescue Committee, a thousand people continue to die every month from the effects of the conflict. Many of these are shot by plunder seeking militias; others flee to the bush where they are taken by hunger and disease.

Most of those who make it to refugee camps are traumatized. "Women have been raped, many have witnessed the murder of family members," says Wedenig.

"The conditions in the camps are horrible," he adds, saying there is only a tarp and a pair of wooden sticks for every family to build an emergency shelter.

And the rekindled fighting is making it difficult to provide food for the refugees.

"The aid workers often cannot reach the camps for days," Wedenig says. And since March, it has rained almost daily and people are starting to contract cholera.

Control of the region's natural resources is the primary concern of the numerous armed groups. As the world market for tin has risen threefold, militia leaders have won considerable profits controlling areas in the Congo where tin ore is extracted.

The U.N. mission so far has been able to act very little. The 17,000 soldiers they command in colossal Congo is exactly the same size as the force deployed to Sierra Leone, which is about the size of Ireland.

According to political research organization Crisis Group, at least 50,000 troops are needed to bring peace to the eastern Congo as the country's interim government in Kinshasa has nearly no influence in the remote area.

The deputy commander of the U.N. mission, Hussein Mahmoud, has now announced tough action against the militias.

"We will pursue them and apprehend them," he warned. Alas, the U.N. soldiers have more than adult soldiers to deal with. An estimated half of the militia forces are composed of children, the youngest of whom are elementary school age.

http://www.monuc.org/news.aspx?newsID=6245