International aid agency Oxfam today welcomed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and urged UN member states not to abandon the war-torn country in the wake of the recent successful elections. The UN peacekeeping mission is the largest in the world with over 17,000 troops, and includes Canadian forces. Unless it is renewed, the mandate ends on February 15.
Oxfam hopes that going to the DRC on his first official foreign trip demonstrates Mr. Ban’s commitment to reversing one of the world’s most dire humanitarian crises. Despite the shift towards democracy, the country remains extremely unstable, with more than 1,000 civilians reportedly dying each day from conflict-related causes.
‘The DRC is at a critical point, said Juliette Prodhan, head of Oxfam in the DRC. ‘December’s elections were a success but the new government structures are fragile. Without UN peacekeepers, the DRC could slide back into conflict and chaos. Oxfam urges UN member states not to abandon the millions of Congolese who voted for peace and stability.
‘Canadian peacekeepers and assistance are making a difference, said Robert Fox, executive director of Oxfam Canada. ‘The international community must continue to protect the basic human rights of civilians living under devastating conditions. Canada has provided $193 million in development and humanitarian assistance since 1998, plus $163 million to the UN peacekeeping mission.
Oxfam called on Mr. Ban to encourage the Security Council to keep the UN peacekeeping force (MONUC) at its current strength when its mandate comes up for renewal in February and not to draw down troop numbers prematurely. As well as protecting civilians, the peacekeeping force should help the new Congolese government train its security forces.
‘While peacekeeping demands in Africa are on the rise, said Prodhan, ‘finding troops to protect vulnerable people from Somalia to Sudan should not come at the expense of security for long-suffering Congolese.
In the Congo, Oxfam provides clean water and sanitation to tens of thousands of displaced people, supports rehabilitation programs for former combatants and others, assists Sudanese refugees, and supports quality primary education.