January 7, 2005
U.N. officials say the death toll in the troubled Congo is among the worst in the world, and that fighting in the African country's east could challenge efforts to hold elections this year. U.N. humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, said Thursday that about 1,000 people are dying per day in the Congo. Many of the deaths are caused by disease and malnutrition in a society broken down by years of war. "Outside of the tsunami areas, I would say Congo is the one area in the world where most people die of neglect and lack of attention and lack of presence of the international community," Egeland told reporters Thursday.
A study released Dec. 9 by the New York-based International Rescue Committee reports that 3.8 million people in eastern Congo have died since 1998 and that about 31,000 continue to die monthly as a result of continuing conflict. Egeland called for more international resources. "There are as many nameless victims in the Eastern Congo... in a year as there may be in the tsunami-stricken societies and I hope the world will be equally compassionate with those defenseless victims in Congo," he said.
Also, Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed concern about the "extremely volatile" security situation in Congo's east, saying it may present a challenge to holding elections due in June. In a report to be given to the Security Council later Thursday, Annan called on the governments of Congo and Rwanda to work together to restore peace in eastern Congo. He said there were "serious challenges" in the process toward elections.
The vast central African country's five-year war ended in 2002, but persistent ethnic fighting and revolts have continued in the east by soldiers who once fought as Rwandan-backed rebels. U.N. troops have been working to try to keep the peace and maintain a buffer zone, but tens of thousands of civilians in the area have fled.
Annan said threats by Rwanda to send troops into the Congo "may have had a negative impact on the security situation." Rwanda says many Hutu rebels who were involved in the 1994 genocide that killed more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus have taken refuge across the border in eastern Congo. Rwanda last month threatened to send in troops to get the rebels.
Annan also said Congo's transitional government was not doing enough to tackle human rights violations, saying the situation "remains deeply disturbing." The secretary-general said there was "clear evidence" that some U.N. personnel had sexually exploited women and girls in Congo. Most of the allegations were in connection with the solicitation of prostitutes, which is a violation of the U.N. code of conduct. "This is a shameful thing for the United Nations to have to say, and I am outraged by it."
An international civilian staff member was removed from the mission in late October and is facing judicial hearings in his home country on charges of rape, sexual aggression, corruption of female minors and possession of pornography pictures of female minors, the report says. Annan promised to discipline swiftly any U.N. personnel who breached the code of conduct. Annan's special representative to the Congo, William Lacy Swing, was expected to brief the Security Council on the secretary-general's report Thursday afternoon.
More Information on the Democratic Republic of Congo
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