UN-backed DRC offensive 'puts civilians at risk'

United Nations-backed plans to attack Hutu rebels in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will lead to civilian deaths and widespread suffering, international aid agency Oxfam warned on Wednesday.

Rwandan and Congolese troops joined forces in January to target the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR)—an armed group created by Hutu militia who took part in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

The subsequent fighting saw about 250 000 people displaced in the east of the country—as many as during heavy fighting between government troops and Tutsi rebels late last year.

Civilians were killed in reprisal attacks by the FDLR and rape and looting were reported by all sides.

Oxfam warned that the new plan for the Congolese army, backed by the UN peacekeeping force Monuc, to attack the FDLR in the South Kivu province would simply cause a repeat of the situation.

“Four months ago an offensive against the FDLR set in train a spiral of violence against civilians which has forced 250 000 to flee their homes and caused untold death and suffering that continues to this day,” said Marcel Stoessel, head of Oxfam in the DRC.

“The UN needs to be aware of the full implications of continuing to support military action in the present circumstances,” he added.

Operations against the FDLR began in January after the DRC and Rwanda reached an agreement to allow Rwandan troops across the border to take out the Hutu rebels—something Rwanda has been keen to do for a long time.

Rwanda’s first act in crossing the border was to arrest rebel Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda, a long-term ally of the Kigali government.

Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People then promised to integrate into the Congolese army, bringing an end to the conflict that flared up in October and capture the world’s attention.

Aid agencies say the operations against the FDLR and the resultant misery are now being ignored by the world.—Sapa

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