Congo Watch: October 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

UK's Channel 4 News team has reached Goma today and visited a refugee camp

Congo map

Today's Snowmail by the production team at Channel 4 News, UK - excerpt:
Our team has reached Goma today and also visited a refugee camp. Jonathan Miller will have an eyewitness report on the chaos and confusion as aid agencies withdraw, the rebels approach and the UN battles to protect civilians.

Communications are difficult with our guys, and power problems are making it difficult for them to operate, but we hope to get the pictures back in time for the top of the programme.

Watch the noon Congo report: http://tinyurl.com/67fkol

Read Congo conflict - the background: http://tinyurl.com/67fkol
Good luck and safe return journey home.

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Camps sheltering 50,000 displaced people in eastern DR Congo have reportedly been looted and burned, says the UN

Friday, 31 October 2008 (BBC) report - DR Congo refugee camps 'burned' - excerpt:
Camps sheltering 50,000 displaced people in eastern DR Congo have reportedly been looted and burned, says the UN.

The UNHCR refugee agency said it was very concerned at reports that the camps in Rutshuru, 90km (56 miles) north of Goma, had been destroyed.

"There are some 50,000 people who were in those camps. We don't know where they would be, we're afraid that they may have just dispersed off into the bush," spokesman Ron Redmond said.

The BBC's Peter Greste in Goma says the road from Goma for mile after mile is choked with families buckling under stoves, food, clothes, bedding and children.

Gen Nkunda said on Thursday that he was opening a "humanitarian corridor" for people to return to their homes.

Our correspondent said that instead of an open corridor, he found people hurrying back to Goma.

"Someone has been shooting at us," one breathless woman said. "We can't go any further."

But those who did reach Kibati told the BBC that they had more chance of getting food in the forests and bushes around the village than inside Goma.

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Congo vigil outside Rwanda Embassy, Washington, DC, USA

Email received from Friends of the Congo - excerpt:
The situation in the Congo has escalated tremendously in recent days. Friends of the Congo, the Africa Faith and Justice Network and their allies are asking all people of goodwill and those who participated in Congo Week to participate in a vigil in support of the people of the Congo.

There will be a vigil in front of the Rwanda Embassy on Friday, October 31, 2008 from 4 pm to 6 pm EST. The vigil will address the escalation of tensions in the East of Congo and Rwanda's implication in the instability in the region.

The location of the vigil is:

Rwanda Embassy
1714 New Hampshire Ave NW
Washington, DC 20009

For questions, call 1-888-584-6510 or 202-884-9780 or send an email to  info@friendsofthecongo.org

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Short video: A history of Congo (Lindsey Hilsum)

Click here to view two short video clips at Channel 4 News' website showing recent tv report on DR Congo and "A history of Congo" by Lindsey Hilsum.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

CNDP are on the outskirts of Nord-Kivu

Laurent Nkunda

Photo: Nkunda denies accusations of rape and looting on the part of his forces (AFP)

"We are asking for freedom and we also have to fight for it" - Laurent Nkunda, speaking to Al Jazeera

Source: Friday, 31 October 2008 (Aljazeera and agencies) report - Rebel move sees DR Congo city empty - excerpt:
Troops loyal to Laurent Nkunda, a renegade army general, were on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Nord-Kivu on Thursday after government resistance appeared to have crumbled.

A statement signed by Nkunda said that the intention of his National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) was "not to panic the population of Goma as well as those who are in displaced camps in the immediate environs of the city".

In a letter to the UN mission in Kinshasa, the rebels said that they were opening humanitarian corridors for refugees camped outside the city.

However, residents fear that the CNDP will overrun the city if negotiations with Nkunda are not met.

'Allied to terrorists'

Nkunda, speaking exclusively to Al Jazeera, accused the Congolese government forces of being "allied to terrorists".

"Seeing the government using negative forces toward its people, it's a national problem.

"We have the most disciplined army in all of Congo and it is known by all of the international community," Nkunda said. "We are not involved in looting or raping.

"We asked for, many times, a ceasefire and peace talks, but they [the government] weren't accepting this. Many times we've been attacked by government forces."

"We are asking for freedom and we also have to fight for it ... We have to suffer sometimes to be free forever," he said.

When asked what he would do if the government didn't respond in the way that he desired, Nkunda said: "We will push the threat so far from Goma, so far from Congo. If they [the government] are not ready to talk, we are ready to push them so far from Goma, so far from Congo."

'Weak central government'

Marie-Roger Biloa, editor of Africa International, a monthly news magazine, told Al Jazeera that the central government in the DRC is very weak.

"There really is not much that the government can do in this conflict," she said.

"Despite the international community expressing its support, the rebels clearly have the upper hand here, and it is ultimately dialogue that is needed, not further violence."

The Kinshasa government accuses neighbouring Rwanda of supporting Nkunda, an ethnic Tutsi.

"The government of Rwanda is not in this conflict," Louise Muchikiwabo, Rwanda's minister of information, told Al Jazeera, saying it was a conflict between two Congolese parties.

'Catastrophic'

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the humanitarian situation in Goma is "catastrophic," with two hospitals have been sacked by looters on Thursday.

Government forces were reported to have fled on Wednesday night, relocating their tanks to the south on the road to Bukavu, in Sud-Kivu province.

However, accusations have been made of government forces, who have abandoned their posts, carrying out violence, including steeling and raping.

UN tanks had been drawn into position around the peacekeeping force's headquarters near the airport to the north of Goma. Madnodje Mounoubai, a UN spokesman, said that peacekeepers were also deployed at other strategic points.

Alain Le Roy, the head of UN peacekeeping operations, said an estimated 800 troops from the UN mission in DRC (Monuc) were currently patrolling Goma.

"We are trying to bring additional troops to protect the civilians in Goma in the coming three to seven days," he said. The reinforcements would be sent from other parts of DR Congo where Monuc has about 17,000 troops.

Julien Mpaluku, the governor of Goma, said that the UN remained in control of the city but "people are stampeding and panicking.

People carrying whatever they could carry streamed out of Goma on Wednesday, while another 45,000 refugees fled a makeshift camp in the nearby village of Kibati. 

The camp, just north of Goma, had seen an influx of 30,000 people over the past three days joining the 15,000 already there, after the CNDP launched a major offensive in the North Kivu region.

International pressure

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has warned that the conflict "is creating a humanitarian crisis of catastrophic dimensions, and threatens dire consequences on a regional scale".

US officials were among those who pulled out of the city and Jendayi Frazer, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, was expected to arrive in DR Congo's capital on Thursday.

Before departing for Kinshasa, Frazer urged Nkunda's forces to comply with previous agreements aimed at ending the conflict in the east of the country.

"I should say, they should not go into Goma, they will be held accountable for actions taking place," Frazer said in Nairobi.

Jean-Maurice Ripert, France's ambassador to the United Nations, said that he hoped that "Nkunda will announce that he stops his offensive" after declaring the ceasefire.

He also said he was planning to send a high-level envoy soon to support an initiative by Ban to facilitate dialogue between Rwanda and Congo.

Ban has reportedly been "alarmed" by reports that Rwandan soldiers were involved in the fighting against Congolese government forces, while the UN Security Council expressed concern at "reports of heavy weapons fire across the Democratic Republic of Congo-Rwanda border".

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Congo fighting intensifies (Channel 4 News)

Today's Snowmail by Alex T, Channel 4 News, UK 18:17:03 GMT - excerpt:
CONGO FIGHTING INTENSIFIES

Goma, in eastern Congo is tonight, a dangerous no-man’s land. This strategic frontier town, close to Rwanda has seen trouble across the day with rioting and reports of rape and looting. The Congolese army has fled.

The Tutsi rebels outside town stand ready to move in but have not done so as I write and have declared a ceasefire. It is the culmination of several years of increasing violence in the area and the stimulus, as ever, Hutu-Tutsi ethnic tensions. Hundreds of thousands of people already displaced, many of them from refugee camps in the first place.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

UN peacekeepers in DR Congo urgently need reinforcements

Anarchy in DR Congo. UN's MONUC desperately needs more troops.

DR Congo:  UN

The UN mission in Congo has launched a counter attack in support of Congolese troops in an effort to block Gen Nkunda's troops from advancing on Goma.

DR Congo:  Bundles

Thousands of people in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo have been fleeing a new outburst of fighting between government troops and rebel forces.

DR Congo:  Soldiers

Government troops near the Kibumba refugee camp have been pushed back by forces loyal to rebel general Laurent Nkunda.

DR Congo:  People

The rebels, who say they are protecting the areas' Tutsi minority, have captured a major army camp at Rumangabo, near the border with Rwanda.

DR Congo:  Jeep

Credit: AFP & AP photos and BBC captions from BBC report Monday, 27 October 2008 - In pictures: Thousands flee Congo fighting

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Anarchy in DR Congo - MONUC chief desperately needs more troops (BBC)

Congolese government troops and UN forces have been involved in fierce battles against Tutsi rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Reports from the region suggest the strategic village of Kibumba, north of the regional capital Goma, is the latest to have fallen to the rebels.

Renegade General Laurent Nkunda's fighters say their next target is Goma, where thousands of civilians have fled.

The head of the UN mission in Congo says he desperately needs more troops.

Anarchy in DR Congo

Photo: The army is finding it difficult to locate the rebel fighters.

"We simply cannot send teams out into the countryside... it's too dangerous; it's anarchy" -UNHCR's Ron Redmond

Full story by BBC Wednesday October 29, 2008: Battles rage near key Congo town - excerpt:
The UN Security Council late on Tuesday called for an immediate ceasefire and issued a statement in which it "strongly condemned the offensive operations" against its peacekeepers.

UN forces have been using attack helicopters and tanks to try to stop the rebel advance, but they say the rebels work in small groups, making them difficult to locate and repulse.

Alan Doss, the head of the UN mission in DR Congo (Monuc), told the BBC his forces were stretched to the limit and needed urgent reinforcements.

He said his troops would do their utmost to stop major towns in the region from falling to the Tutsi rebels under Gen Nkunda.

"We are going to remain there, and we are going to act against any effort to take over a city or major population centre by force," he said from Kinshasa, the Congolese capital.

Monuc has 17,000 troops in DR Congo - the largest peacekeeping force in the world - but has come under criticism from residents in the east of the country for being unable to protect them.

The head of UN peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, briefed the Security Council, and said the appeal for more troops had been "heard clearly by all member states".

Refugee crisis

The towns of Rutshuru and Rubare have also been threatened by the rebel forces.

Rutshuru houses tens of thousands of displaced people and dozens of aid workers are usually based there.
Click into BBC's report above and see link to 'Eastern DR Congo's hell in pictures: Thousands flee fighting'.

UPDATE: New pictures posted at Congo Watch on Wednesday, October 29, 2008: UN peacekeepers in DR Congo urgently need reinforcements

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tragedy looms in DR Congo - Tens of thousands of people fleeing fighting (Lindsey Hilsum, Channel 4 News)

October 28, 2008 (Channel 4 News, UK) Snowmail by Krishnan - "Tragedy looms in DR Congo" - excerpt:
" ... there is a new and urgent human emergency unfolding in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The pictures of tens of thousands of people fleeing fighting are heart-rending. The core of what’s happening is the advance of Rwanda-backed rebels towards the main city of Goma. The UN is pulling out and retreating from its positions, and civilians are once again on the move.

So once again this deeply unstable country, largely ignored by the outside world, has been pushed to the brink of terrible tragedy. Our international editor Lindsey Hilsum will have the story. And we are inviting various international figures to appear on our programme tonight."
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October 28, 2008 (Channel 4 News, UK) report by Lindsey Hilsum - Rwandan genocide haunts Congo:
The Democratic Republic of Congo slips back towards all-out war as the biggest UN peacekeeping force in the world fails to thwart rebel fighters.

A human emergency is unfolding in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as Rwandan-backed rebels close in on the strategic city of Goma, despite attacks from peacekeepers in helicopter gunships.

Government troops are retreating in tanks, lorries and on foot, and tens of thousands of civilians are fleeing a rebel army with a reputation for brutality.

The rebels are advancing on the town of Rutshuru, 60 miles north of Goma. Their leader, General Laurent Nkunda, has vowed to seize Goma to protect the minority Tutsi population from Hutus who escaped from neighbouring Rwanda after the 1994 genocide.

The 17,000-strong UN force has been firing on them from helicopters, but there is no sign of it stopping their advance.

Tens of thousands of refugees are on the move. Aid agencies say many are malnourished and even dying of hunger.
DR Congo refugees

Photo: Refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo flee ahead of advancing Tutsi rebels on the road between Goma and Kibati. Click on Congo refugees for Channel 4 News' full-screen picture of the day.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

UN: 200,000 people displaced in E. DR Congo in past two months - 2m people displaced in Kivu area since 2007

October 24, 2008 BBC report Thousands displaced in DR Congo. Excerpt:
The UN says about 200,000 people have been displaced by renewed fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in the past two months.

Previously the United Nations had reported half that number.

Concern has been rising in the east of DR Congo, where the army has been battling fighters loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda.

Up to two million people are thought to have been displaced in the Kivu area since 2007, the UN says.

The UN says this vast displacement means many people are malnourished and some were dying of hunger.

Deterioration

Charles Vincent from the UN World Food Programme said: "The capacity of the World Food Programme and other humanitarian organisations is stretched to the limit [and] the situation has begun to deteriorate in the last [few] weeks."

"There is an enormous need for the women who have been abused," he added, saying that half the number of rapes in DR Congo are committed in Kivu.

EAST DR CONGO ARMED GROUPS

The UN says that the population needs 33,000 tonnes of food or $46m (£29m) worth of supplies by March 2009.

A UN force has failed to halt fighting in the east, where violence has intensified since August between government troops and Gen Nkunda's forces.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Give free rice to hungry people by playing a simple game - Spread the word about hunger

This is my contribution to World Food Day, October 16, 2008. (Cross posted yesterday at some of my other blogs).

My top tips: Don't waste an inch of food or water. Cook fresh home made meals from scratch. Don't drink unnatural juice. Make and mend. Recycle food, water, paper, metal, glass. Adopt a rescue cat to ensure no mice. Adopt a rescue dog for self protection and healthy exercise. Respect the land, sea and air. Be kind and generous. Try to love all people, animals, insects, flowers, trees and plants. Care about what happens to the thirsty, hungry, homeless, sick, disabled, and elderly. Visit friends in person or write note instead of phoning. Cut down on petrol pollution and plastic waste. Don't drive a distance that you could easily walk, bus or cycle. Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves. Tithe 10% of your income and see how much more you receive in return.
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Notable Quote

"The best things in life aren't things" - Art Buchwald (Source: Bloomberg TV)
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On World Food Day - October 16, Spread the word about hunger

Give free rice to hungry people by playing a simple game that increases your knowledge.

World Food Day 16 October

Visit FreeRice, www.freerice.com, to translate your right answers into rice for the hungry.

147,750,140 grains of rice donated yesterday. Over 47 billion grains donated to date. Sponsors pay for the donated rice.

Click into www.freerice.com and give the right answer in the middle of the page. I reached level 41 with a donation total of 3040 grains. Will do more later.

"Help us mark World Food Day this year as high food prices, dramatic increases in fuel costs, and profound changes in climate conditions have conspired to bring new dimensions of suffering and hardship to the poor, depriving almost one billion people of the food they need to live a healthy life."  - UN

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S.O.S. Please email Congo Watch - 2 years of emails lost

On Wednesday, 15 October 2008, two engineers from British Telecom IT Support were here for a specially ordered appointment to ensure a smooth changeover from my current ISP, Virgin Media, to BT Broadband.

Sadly, it turned into a 3-hour job. The engineer, after deleting the Virgin email address from my PowerBook G4 (Mac OS X 10.3.9) said it had never occurred to him that the contents of my AppleMac drafts email folder would also be deleted, along with the contents of my folders for sent and incoming emails. In their experience, such a thing had never happened before.

Groan. Over the past 3-4 weeks, apart from the 3 hours yesterday, I've spent what seems like a total of 20 hours on the phone to BT, from here to Scotland and India, ever since initial call to BT's broadband sales office.

BT couldn't set me up for broadband for a few weeks resulting in connection to BT dial-up service in the interim - for which I almost got charged £18 for Day One if I hadn't checked tarriff for the 'Pay As You Go' option that BT signed me up to, instead of the 'Anytime' package costing £1 for first month.

Not to mention the ordeal I went though trying to obtain an internet cable for a few weeks of the dial up service. And then the service itself. By the end of Day One, BT dial up Tech Support told me the loss of connection every few minutes was nothing to do with them and blamed my internal modem as being corrupted and broken. Not true, I discovered next day.

Yesterday morning, I awoke feeling gutted, bereft and exhausted over the whole experience. More than one thousand draft items and scores of photos for future blogposts which, despite Apple's best efforts (a further 1-hour ordeal over phone last night) are no longer recoverable. All gone. Vanished. Forever. Nightmare.

Years of hard work and precious energy wasted. I feel sad at losing so much, just when I was getting back into the swing of things after ten bereavements (including my mother and three longstanding friends) and the toll it took on my health.

Chin up. Worse things happen at sea. I'll endeavour to continue blogging while working on piecing together lost drafts, updating email address in my blogs. re-subscribing to news alerts, etc.

Right now, the thought of having to find all the pieces to put back together again, and recall people's latest email addresses that may or not be in my computer's address book, is too overwhelming.

If you have ever emailed me, no matter how long ago, please email me NOW with copy of last email or just a few words or, better still, photo of your pet, to enable me to save your address safely in a new folder for easy future reference.

My new BT email address is now in the sidebar here at Congo Watch.

I'm always here, with my cat Ophelia, happy to receive emails that are not spam. It still pains me to be so slow in replying. I fear that taking weeks and months to reply puts people off from staying in contact.

P.S.
Mostly I am sad at losing photos of pets belonging to some of my favourite bloggers. I adore cats and had collected some pretty special photos for a Cat Watch Blog that I'm creating as a place for me to visit when the going gets tough at my watch blogs and I feel disappointed in human beings.

If you know the personality of any cat (or dog, especially if it gets along with cats) and have a photo of the pet, please send it to me so I can create a little story for posting (with your permission and credit/link to you) at the most suitable of my three new blogs (currently under construction) namely: Cat Watch Blog, Heavenly Cats, Pets in Heaven.

Here's looking forward to learning about cats living in different parts of the world. I'm curious to know if cats all over the world have same habits and act in same way, or behave differently from mine here in England. If anyone ever thinks of sending us a greetings, especially over Christmas and New Year, anything for my pet blogs would be cheerfully received and warmly appreciated. I promise to reply with some observations and questions about your pet's charm and character.

Having said all that, I'm bracing myself for the possibility that no-one will take notice of this post although, even during blogging breaks, Congo Watch continues to receive thousands of visitors and page views. I have no idea of how many people read my blogs via a news reader and never visit in person. I don't even know if the feed for my Sudan Watch blog still works. It no longer works in my newsreader, NetNewsWire.

Hey is anybody out there? Please say something!

With love from Ingrid and cat Ophelia, posted by the sea on south west coast of England, UK xx

An edited version of this post will appear in some of my network of blogs, ie: Sudan Watch, Uganda Watch, Ethiopia Watch, Niger Watch, Egypt Watch, Kenya Watch, ME/CFS Watch, ME AND OPHELIA.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Mountain Gorillas Eaten by Congolese Rebels

Warning: This story contains a graphic image that may be disturbing to some readers. January 19, 2007 report by James Owen for National Geographic News:
Mountain Gorillas Eaten by Congolese Rebels

Armed rebels have begun slaughtering and eating protected mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), conservationists reported this week.

So far, the dismembered remains of two gorillas have been discovered, according to wildlife workers in the DRC.

And it's feared that more of the critically endangered animals may have been killed, said Emmanuel de Merode, director of WildlifeDirect, a conservation group based in Kenya and the DRC.

"The fact that two were killed suggests they were deliberately targeted," de Merode said. "I suspect there was an element of vandalism."

Only around 700 mountain gorillas remain worldwide. More than half live in the Virunga volcanic mountains region shared by the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda.

The two eaten gorillas were adult males known as silverbacks. They died in Virunga National Park, a nearly two-million-acre (790,000-hectare) protected area in the eastern DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo map).

Pair of Killings

The first silverback killed by rebels was reported dead on January 9, said senior park warden Paulin Ngobobo, who posts a blog on the WildlifeDirect Web site. (Related: "Exposing Atrocities, Blogs Give Wildlife Warriors Instant SOS" [December 5, 2006].)

"A local farmer was ordered to help the rebels collect the meat of the gorilla," Ngobobo said. "He told them that the meat was dangerous to eat and immediately informed us of the incident."

The other killing is thought to have occurred on January 11, but Virunga park wardens only this week found the gorilla's severed head, feet, skin, and other remains dumped in a pit latrine at a rebel camp.

"The stench was terrible, a mixture of rotting flesh and human excrement," reported conservationist Robert Muir of the Frankfurt Zoological Society in Germany, who accompanied the wardens.

"Investigations continue, but it seems likely that the gorillas were killed for food," he added. "We do not suspect that body parts have been taken as trophies or for sale on the black market."

The dead gorilla was identified as an 18-year-old silverback known as Karema. The name means "handicapped"—the male had lost his left hand, most likely to a poacher's snare, Ngobobo noted.

Karema was used to the presence of humans, because he was part of a group visited regularly by tourists before civil war broke out in the DRC in 1996.

"He died at the hands of a species he trusted completely," Ngobobo said.

The gruesome dismemberment echoed human atrocities in neighboring Rwanda during ethnic massacres in 1994, Ngobobo added.

"This terrible act was done to humans during the Rwandan genocide," he wrote in his blog.

Rebel Group

The rebel group blamed for the slaughter is the Rally for Congolese Democracy-Goma (RCD-Goma), about 2,000 men led by Laurent Nkunda. Nkunda is wanted by the Congolese government for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Last year, another rebel militia—the Mai Mai—was responsible for butchering hundreds of hippos along the shores of Lake Edward, also in Virunga National Park.

Since then, the DRC has completed its first democratic elections in more than 40 years, raising hopes of lasting peace in the war-ravaged country.

"The elections went remarkably well, all things considered," said Ian Redmond, chief consultant for the United Nations-led Great Apes Survival Project. "But there is the odd rebel faction which still hasn't accepted this."

But there are now good prospects of a peace deal between RCD-Goma and the government, he added.

In the meanwhile, conservation groups are calling on the international community to take immediate action to prevent further gorilla deaths.

The groups have also asked the United Nations to give extra support to Virunga's overburdened park wardens, 97 of whom have been killed in the park since 1996.

The wardens weren't able to protect the two slain mountain gorillas because heavily armed rebels had overrun ranger posts, Redmond said.

"The rangers might be well equipped for tackling poachers—but not when the poachers are well-trained, well-armed military," he said.

He pointed out that completely wild gorillas aren't difficult to hunt in the first place, because they leave a clear trail in the forest.

"But [the two killed] gorillas grew up in groups that are habituated for tourism, which means that they are very easy to kill," he said.

Tourism has been crucial to the successful conservation of Virunga's population over the past 25 years, he added. Numbers are up to about 380 from 240 in the late 1970s, when Redmond first visited the region.

"But tourism carries a risk that if you can no longer protect the gorillas, then they are very vulnerable," he said. "These rebels could continue munching their way through all these habituated groups, which would be catastrophic. Every individual is nearly a quarter of a percent of the population."

Even if the rebels eventually move out of the gorilla forests, Redmond added, "then the international support would be for rebuilding, because all the ranger posts have been looted and a lot of damage has been done."

African conservationist Richard Leakey, credited with helping to end the slaughter of elephants in Kenya in 1980s, said in a statement: "The survival of these last remaining mountain gorillas should be one of humanity's greatest priorities.

"Their future lies with a small number of very brave rangers, risking their lives with very little support from the outside world."
Hat tip: Rob Crilly, From The Frontline 13 Oct 08 -
Pirates Smuggle Somalia on to the Agenda

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

DR Congo's President Kabila calls for citizens in E. DR Congo to take up arms against CNDP rebel leader Gen. Nkunda to protect unity of DR Congo

Congolese President Joseph Kabila has made a televised appeal for people in the east to take up arms against rebel general Laurant Nkunda.

His comments came after Gen Nkunda said he wanted to "liberate" the whole of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Meanwhile, the UN peacekeepers said rebel forces had withdrawn from an army base captured earlier this week.

Gen Nkunda was persuaded to withdraw from Rumangabo base with captured arms and supplies, a spokesman said.

Forces loyal to the general had overrun the base on Tuesday, forcing thousands of people to flee and capturing weapons abandoned by the fleeing government troops.

Full story: BBC - DR Congo president's call to arms - Saturday Oct 11, 2008.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Deployed peacekeeping veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have significant impairments in health-related quality of life

Nine years ago today, I was struck down with a flu like viral illness from which I never recovered. After the initial six months, my profoundly disabling condition was diagnosed by a Consultant Psychiatrist as a severe form of Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome (PVFS), also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

Still, to this day, there is no effective treatment or cure. In my experience, the condition is similar to Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Gulf War Syndrome (GWS).

Over the past nine years my energy level has increased from one half hour to two hours per day. I am still virtually housebound. Last March, I was able to attend my mother's funeral. Next month, I am scheduled to attend a long awaited appointment with a CFS Consultant. Several years ago, I was bedbound for two years.

The following definition of ME is from a paper I wrote with a very dear friend (recently departed, God rest his soul) in March 2003:
Myalgic Encephalomyelitis - ME

Evidenced by muscle pain, with inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, ME has been known for half a century as 'a-typical polio'. The symptoms of extreme lassitude, and the swift onset of exhaustion that characterise the disease, also caused it to be known for many years as 'chronic fatigue syndrome' or CFS. It was only classified by the World Health Organisation of the United Nations as a neurological disorder in 1969.

The disorder is triggered by a virus infection that occurs worldwide in epidemic and pandemic form: seasonally and in selected geographical areas. It affects about 1% of the British population and there is no known cure. While three-quarters of those who become infected do not present advanced symptoms, 25% of ME sufferers are chronically affected with severe illness and pain, causing them to become profoundly disabled and very largely housebound. The condition can last throughout life without remission of any kind.

Doctors and sufferers generally agree that the worst effects of the disease can be 'managed by strict adherence to conservation of energy, reduction of stress and simplification of work: augmented by education, with practical and economic support'.
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We're not lazy nor crazy, tiredness is the least of our problems

This post today, 10 October 2008, here at Congo Watch, is to help raise awareness of the plight of military personnel suffering from ghastly life-wrecking Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Below are some excerpts taken from Science Daily online. More on this topic at a later date.
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Peacekeepers are exposed to traumatic events which they are helpless to prevent under the United National rules of engagement
While the relationship among Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and physical and mental health impairment is well developed in combat veterans, it is less studied among the deployed peacekeeping veteran population.

Peacekeepers are exposed to traumatic events which they are helpless to prevent under the United National rules of engagement, which state soldiers must show restraint and neutrality. The feeling of being unable to control a situation at the time of trauma is an important risk factor for developing PTSD.
More from ScienceDaily.com (Dec. 15, 2007):
Canada’s peacekeepers suffer similar rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) as combat, war-zone soldiers, according to a London, Ont. research team.

Psychiatrist J. Donald Richardson and his co-investigators also found that PTSD rates and severity were associated with younger age, single marital status and deployment frequency.
Vietnam Combat Linked To Many Diseases 20 Years Later
According to Boscarino, of the 1,399 Vietnam veterans studied, 24 percent (332) were diagnosed with PTSD sometime after military service, and nearly all cases of PTSD in the study resulted from exposure to heavy or very heavy combat in Vietnam.

He said his research and others' suggest that those with PTSD often have altered neuroendocrine and sympathetic nervous systems. Disturbances in these key body systems are the main reason for increases in a broad spectrum of diseases among combat veterans, he said. His research also uncovered abnormal immune functioning and clear medical evidence of coronary artery disease among the veterans studied. Read more at ScienceDaily (Nov. 26, 1997)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder May Result In Heart Disease
Combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) appear to be at higher risk for coronary heart disease (CHD), according to a recent study of 4,462 male U.S. Army veterans.

"We believe that this research suggests a clear, definitive linkage between exposure to severe stress and the onset of coronary heart disease in humans," said Boscarino. Read more at ScienceDaily (Nov. 10, 1999)
PTSD Causes Early Death From Heart Disease, Study Suggests
A new study sheds light on the link between PTSD and heart disease. Vietnam veterans with PTSD suffered higher rates of heart disease death than veterans without PTSD.

The more severe the PTSD diagnosis, the greater the likelihood of death from heart disease, the study showed. Read more at ScienceDaily (July 8, 2008)
Whether combat or peacekeeping, PTSD impacts veterans' well-being
Deployed peacekeeping veterans with PTSD have significant impairments in health-related quality of life according to research by Dr. J. Donald Richardson of The University of Western Ontario and his co-investigators.

The research, published recently in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, found anxiety disorders such as PTSD are associated with impaired emotional well-being, and this applies just as much to peacekeeping veterans as to combat veterans. "This finding is important to clinicians working with the newer generation of veterans, as it stresses the importance of including measures of quality of life when evaluating veterans to better address their rehabilitation needs," says Dr. Richardson. "It is not enough to measure symptom changes with treatment; we need to objectively assess if treatment is improving their quality of life and how they are functioning in their community."

Richardson is a consultant psychiatrist with the Operational Stress Injury Clinic at Parkwood Hospital, part of St. Joseph's Health Care, London and a psychiatry professor with the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western. His team studied 125 male, deployed Canadian Forces peacekeeping veterans who were referred for a psychiatric assessment. The average age of these men was 41, and they averaged 16 years of military service. The most common military theatre in which they served were the Balkan states (Bosnia, Croatia, former Yugoslavia, and Kosovo), with 83 per cent having exposure to combat or a war zone. Read more at ScienceDaily (Oct. 3, 2008)
Post Traumatic Stress Has Tripled Among Combat-exposed Military Personnel
Concerns have been raised about the health impact of military deployment. Studies have estimated as many as 30% of Vietnam War veterans developed post-traumatic stress disorder at some point following the war and, among 1991 Gulf War veterans, as many as 10% were reported to have post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms years after returning from deployment. Read more at ScienceDaily (Jan. 17, 2008)
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Postscript

I would be interested to hear from anyone affected by above issues. Feel free to email me anytime and forgive me if I am slow to respond. Note, my current email address will cease on November 28, 2008 because I am switching my ISP to British Telecommunications (BT) Broadband.

With love from me and my cat Ophelia xx

[Afterthought: As my network of blogs receives thousands of regular visits from military, health orgs, unis, govts, etc., I have decided to cross post this whole entry at some of Sudan Watch's sister sites: Congo Watch, Uganda Watch, Ethiopia Watch, Niger Watch, Kenya Watch, Russia Watch.]

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Rwandan troops 'invade DR Congo' threatening the city of Goma (BBC)

DR Congo accuses Rwanda of sending troops across the border, and threatening the city of Goma.

Full story: BBC News online Thursday 09 October 2008
- Rwandan troops 'invade DR Congo'

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Gen. Nkunda, leader of the CNDP, claims the CNDP intends to overthrow DRC govt - US will work to bring to justice war criminals in E Congo & elsewhere

U.S. DEPARTMENT of STATE
Press Statement
Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
October 6, 2008

Statements by General Nkunda in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The United States condemns and rejects the statements made by General Nkunda, leader of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), claiming the CNDP intends to overthrow the elected and universally recognized Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (GDRC). The U.S. calls on the international community to support the GDRC as it works to consolidate its democracy and capacity to govern justly its entire territory. The U.S. opposes all those who seek to foment instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The Goma Agreement and the Nairobi Communiqué remain the only true viable framework to bring stability to eastern Congo. The signatories should respect their commitments and implement them swiftly. All concerned parties should also respect the current cease fire and move quickly to disengage their forces in accordance with the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (MONUC) Global Disengagement Plan. The U.S. applauds MONUC for its efforts to stabilize eastern Congo and calls on all parties to cooperate with those efforts. Conflict between the CNDP and the DRC Armed Forces only detracts attention from resolving the root problem causing instability in the region posed by the ex-Rwandan Armed Forces (ex-FAR), the Interahamwe, and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The U.S. remains committed to supporting the GDRC and the people of the Congo to ensure a strong, democratic state, free from all illegal armed groups. At the October 3rd UN Security Council meeting on DRC, the U.S. condemned statements made by Nkunda and called for the improvement of MONUC capabilities to better carry out its mandate. The U.S. will continue to work with the DRC and the Great Lakes countries both bilaterally and through the Tripartite Plus process to strengthen regional cooperation and build a stable and prosperous region.

The U.S. will work to bring to justice those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in eastern Congo and elsewhere.

2008/844

Released on October 6, 2008

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Uganda urges aid agencies to stop feeding LRA in DR Congo

Uganda's government has urged aid agencies to stop supplying food to the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in order to starve them out of their camps in the forests of the DR of Congo where they have been for a number of years.

Source: BBC News report 30 September 2008 - Uganda: Starve rebels for peace. Excerpt:
Minister for Disaster Preparedness Tarsis Kabwegyere said this would increase pressure on the group to sign a peace deal to end their 20-year war.

He said the LRA should be starved out of its camps in the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The LRA refused to sign an agreement in April because of international arrest warrants against its leaders.

Mr Kabwegyere said rebel leader Joseph Kony had manipulated peace talks to gain access to food and medicine.

"Whoever is giving food to LRA should say: 'We're giving you food only when you can sign,'" he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

The government had not given up hope on peace, he added.

"Kony [should] know that ending the war is the best thing to do."

His fighters have relocated to camps on the Sudan-DR Congo border over the past two years of peace negotiations.

Last week, Catholic aid agency Caritas said some 75,000 people had fled recent LRA attack in DR Congo.

The LRA has led a rebellion for more than 20 years which has displaced some two million people in northern Uganda.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

ICC renews call for Ugandan LRA rebel leader Kony's arrest

Copy of AFP report via MONUC Monday, 06 October 2008 - ICC renews call for Ugandan rebel leader Kony's arrest:

THE HAGUE, Oct 6, 2008 (AFP) - The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court renewed calls Monday for the arrest of Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony following attacks by the Ugandan rebel group on Congolese citizens.

"In the light of serious and converging information on attacks by the LRA against civilians in the DRC, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo calls for renewed efforts to arrest LRA leader Kony and his top commanders," said a statement issued in The Hague.

"The criminals remain at large and continue to commit crimes and they are threatening the entire region. Arrest is long overdue."

The prosecutor claimed the LRA attacked villages in the Haut Uele district of the Democratic Republic of Congo on September 17.

"These attacks all follow a similar method with markets surrounded and looted, students abducted from school, properties burned and dozens of civilians killed, including several local chiefs," said the statement.

"Tens of thousands have now been displaced.

The ICC issued arrest warrants for Kony and two other top LRA commanders, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen, in 2005.

They are accused of raping and mutilating civilians, enlisting child soldiers and massacring thousands.

In July, southern Sudanese lawmakers urged the ICC to defer the indictments to encourage the rebel leaders to sign a Sudan-mediated Ugandan peace agreement.

Kony has so far refused to sign the accord on the basis of the ICC arrest warrants.

"Kony -- just as he has many times in the past -- uses the peace talks to gain time and support, to rearm and attack again," said the prosecutor's statement.

"The price paid today by civilians is high."

Moreno-Ocampo's office urged regional and international organisations to support DR Congo and Uganda in planning and executing the arrests.

A semi-literate former altar boy, Kony took charge in 1988 of a regional rebellion among northern Uganda's ethnic Acholi minority.

Twenty years of fighting between the rebels and government forces have left tens of thousands dead and displaced two million people, mainly in northern Uganda.

monuc.org © 1999-2006 United Nations - MONUC

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Friday, October 03, 2008

UN attack helicopters went into action in E. DRC after Ituri Patriotic Resistance Front (FRPI) rebels opened fire at UN reconnaissance planes

Thursday 02 October 2008 – United Nations attack helicopters firing rockets went into action in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today after rebels attempting to advance against the Government opened fire on UN reconnaissance planes.

The UN action was the latest in a series of strikes against the rebel Ituri Patriotic Resistance Front (FRPI) in Ituri province, and comes less than two weeks after peacekeepers from the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) sent in combat helicopters against another rebel group in North Kivu province, to the south.

“MONUC is intervening with all the means at its disposal, including attack helicopters, to protect the civilian population which is in imminent danger,” the mission said in a news release. “Moreover MONUC is cooperating with the DRC armed forces to re-establish state authority over the whole of Ituri.”

Residual FRPI elements launched attacks on Monday against the army, capturing two camps and advancing towards the village of Aveba before they were repulsed by MONUC.

Full story at UN News Centre 02 October 2008 - UN helicopters respond to rebel attack in eastern DR Congo

Related reports

Sapa-AP report Friday 03 Oct 2008 by Eddy Isango: Bullets hit UN chopper during clash

AP report Thursday 02 Oct 2008: UN helicopters fire rockets at east Congo militia

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1,200 Congolese flee from DR Congo into southern Sudan to escape brutal attacks by Ugandan rebel group LRA

About 1,200 Congolese have sought shelter in southern Sudan in recent days to escape brutal attacks by members of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) that have included the abduction of children and the torching of homes, the United Nations refugee agency reported today [Wednesday, 01 October 2008].

The Congolese arrived on foot in the Sudanese villages of Gangura and Sakure after a four-day journey, telling local authorities and aid agencies about savage attacks on six separate villages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The refugees said they fled to Sudan because the LRA, which has waged war against Ugandan Government forces for two decades, sometimes from bases in remote areas of the north-eastern DRC, had blocked all other routes out of the region.

“From what we have learned in speaking to the refugees, the attacks were ferocious and unremitting,” said Geoff Wordley, the assistant representative for UNHCR operations in southern Sudan, adding there are unconfirmed reports of bodies seen floating in local rivers.

“Many refugees being treated in the MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières] clinic showed wounds from machetes and bullets.”

Full story: 01 October 2008 UN report: Hundreds of Congolese flee attacks by notorious rebels – UN refugee agency

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DRC rebel General Laurent Nkunda 'to expand rebellion'

Renegade Congolese General Laurent Nkunda says he wants to "liberate" the whole of DR Congo, expanding his rebellion from the east.

Gen Nkunda has told the BBC he is now fighting to "liberate" the whole of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Until now, he had always claimed to be protecting his Tutsi people against Rwandan Hutu armed groups in the east.

Gen Nkunda said he was walking out of a January peace deal. Recent fighting between his troops and the army has led more than 100,000 people to flee.

DR Congo Defence Minister Chikez Diemu said his statement was "irresponsible".

Gen Nkunda says he wants to expand his theatre of operations for his CNDP forces from eastern DR Congo to the whole country.

The BBC's Africa analyst Joseph Winter says this is a definite change of tone from a man who has always portrayed himself as a defender of his Tutsi people.

"I am calling on the people of Congo to stand up for their liberty, for their freedom," he said.

He says they are under threat from some of those who carried out the genocide of their fellow Tutsis in neighbouring Rwanda 14 years ago.

Such fighting talk will not go down well hundreds of kilometres away in the capital, Kinshasa, where President Joseph Kabila was largely elected on his promise to bring peace to the county after many years of war, says Joseph Winter.

There are some 17,000 United Nations peacekeepers in DR Congo, who will no doubt do their best to prevent the conflict from spreading any further.

The UN helped broker a peace deal in January in the east, which held, more or less, for seven months.

Source: BBC News Thursday 02 October 2008 - Congo rebel 'to expand rebellion'

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