December 18, 2012—More than one million people are at risk of militia, rebel and army attacks as fighters begin to position themselves in and around the provincial city of Goma, where government or UN peacekeepers offer little protection, international agency Oxfam warned today. New fighting has already shaken the area around Masisi, 80 km northwest of Goma.
As different rebel groups appear to be moving towards sites around Goma, the agency fears civilians could get caught up in attacks targeting camps of displaced people. Oxfam said the UN peacekeeping mission should urgently patrol high-risk areas.
“People are scared and many have gathered their belongings in anticipation of a big explosion of violence,” said Oxfam’s humanitarian coordinator Tariq Riebl. “There is now a real risk of war on top of the daily violence and abuse people already face.”
In and around Masisi, approximately 250,000 people have fled for their lives in the past month. According to local organizations working in the area, at least 17 villages have been burnt and looted and more than 20 camps sheltering tens of thousands of displaced people are now under the control of armed groups.
Masisi is a key strategic area for control over lucrative mineral and trade routes. A recent Oxfam assessment found market towns in the region have been repeatedly attacked by numerous armed groups, including the Congolese army. Farmers have to pay money or food to local militia to access their fields, and armed groups have helped themselves to crops to feed their own fighters and families.
The UN peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, has bases in the territory but communities say they have not seen patrols in recent weeks.
“We can't shout loudly enough,” said Riebl. “Those at peace talks in Kampala must bring an end to this brutal madness. The AU and the UN must step up its leadership of negotiations and make sure a timetable for a long-lasting solution is agreed."
For more information, please contact:
Juliet O’Neill 613-240-3047
Notes to editors
Oxfam has been providing life-saving aid in three camps around Goma since July, piping and trucking clean water to people who had fled the fighting. The agency has built latrines and installed sanitation services, as well as providing cash distributions to help people buy food. Oxfam also works in several areas across North and South Kivu, providing water and sanitation, and helping communities get their rights to adequate protection.