UN joins battle with Congo rebels in Goma

United Nations peacekeeping forces engage in heavy fighting with rebel forces led by Laurent Nkunda in Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The conflict in and around the city of Goma.

The fighting, which started on October 27, has uprooted an additional 200,000 civilians, bringing the total of people displaced by the Kivu conflict to 2 million, causing civil unrest and large food shortages.

On October 26 Nkunda’s rebels seized a major military camp, along with Virunga National Park for use as a base to launch attacks from. This occurred after a peace treaty failed, with the resultant fighting displacing thousands. The park was taken due to its strategic location on a main road leading to the city of Goma.

On October 27 riots began around the United Nations compound in Goma, and civilians pelted the building with rocks and threw Molotov cocktails, claiming that the UN forces had done nothing to prevent the rebel advance. The Congolese national army also retreated under pressure from the rebel army in a “major retreat”.

Meanwhile, United Nations gunships and armoured vehicles were used in an effort to halt the advance of the rebels, who claim to be within 7 miles (11 kilometers) of Goma. Head of MONUC Alan Goss explained the necessity of engaging the rebels, stating that “…[the UN] can’t allow population centers to be threatened… [the UN] had to engage.”

The World Food Program stated that due to the displacement of approximately 200,000 in the region since August, malnourishment has risen and there have been some cases of death due to starvation. According to a spokesman the agency is short 33,000 tons of food if they are to last to March 2009, and will need US$46 million in donations to obtain it.

The United States Department of State pushed for cooperation between Congo and the neighbouring countries of Rwanda and Uganda, stating that they “need to work together” to rein in “militia groups and other negative forces.” Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer is scheduled to visit the region and urge talks.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked all involved parties “to make every effort to restore calm among the affected populations”, due to concerns that the clash may spark wide-spread conflict.

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