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Monday 16 June 2008


DRC: Suspected haemorrhagic fever kills three in Equateur Province


KINSHASA, 13 June 2008 (IRIN) - Three people in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Equateur Province have died from what is suspected to be haemorrhagic fever, according to medical sources.


Samples collected in Boende, 300km east of Bandaka, have been sent to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta in the USA, to determine whether or not the disease is viral.


According to its spokesman, Eugene Kabambi, the UN's World Health Organization has sent a team of experts to Boende together with government doctors.


"The third death, that of a child, was reported on Wednesday" 11 June, said Jacques Mokange, the province's medical inspector.


"The first death was recorded on 29 May after the patient presented with fever, haemorrhage and finally bleeding from all the orifices in his body," added Mokange, who declined to speculate about whether the deaths were caused by one of the Ebola group of viruses, the fatality rates of which range from 50 to 90 percent.


"Our investigations show no evidence of contamination among the four infected people and we are following those they were in contact with - family, friends and nurses - but we tentatively conclude that this could be a haemorrhagic fever but that it is not viral," said the doctor.


An isolation centre had been set up in Boende just in case the disease did turn out to be viral, he added.


Other response measures include the provision of free care at a newly established health centre, and local radio broadcasts about the importance of hygiene.


Various kinds of haemorrhagic fever frequently break out in DRC. The most  deadly case took place in 1995, when an Ebola outbreak killed over 250 people in Kikwit, Bandudu Province. ei/am/cb[END]



GLOBAL: Civil society demands more partnership with governments

NEW YORK, 13 June 2008 (PLUSNEWS) - After going into an unscheduled third day, the United Nations High-Level meeting on HIV/AIDS ended on 12 June with civil society groups complaining over the lack of true partnership with governments in the fight against the pandemic.

"Greater involvement of civil society has been identified by the UN as a critical strategy to combat AIDS ... The involvement of civil society in official national delegations must be effective, not just tokenistic," stated a Civil Society Declaration signed by some 100 groups.

"Real partnership between donors, governments, civil society, UN agencies and affected populations requires a balance of power in making decisions. Only through genuine partnership can we overcome the challenges and achieve universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support for all people by 2010," the statement continued.

The signatories included the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, the Association of Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, the Lesotho Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, the Service and Healing Coalition for Women of South Africa, the Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV/AIDS, South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign, and Simao Cacumba Faria - an Angola organisation.

The statement voiced disappointment that few heads of state attended the meeting and that many governments failed to fully disclose the reality of their country's HIV/AIDS epidemics in their national progress reports submitted to UNGASS earlier this year.

Olayide Akanni, of the African Civil Society Coalition on HIV/AIDS and Journalists Against AIDS, a Nigerian NGO, pointed out that some governments had failed to submit progress reports at all. "That is totally unacceptable. It was agreed that government would regularly update the UN on the progress and some governments have declined doing that," she said.

Although some participants felt that civil society had been given greater space to air their views than at the last UNGASS meeting in 2006, they also worried that governments had made little effort to share that space. "In the side events it was just like we were talking to ourselves," said Gcebile Ndlovu, a Swaziland-based coordinator for the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS.

Ndlovu also noted that some countries, including Swaziland, which has the highest HIV prevalence in the world, did not have any civil society component to their government delegations. "This was supposed to be a partnership thing, but it can't be partnership at the global level if the partnership is not realised at the country level."

A final declaration that emerged from the 2006 meeting was regarded by most civil society groups as greatly weakened by the attempt to reach consensus between countries with conflicting attitudes and priorities. This year's meeting dispensed with a declaration, but a closing statement by UN General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim summarised some of the major themes that had emerged in discussions about how to build on current efforts to reach universal access by 2010.

He emphasised the importance of leadership and political accountability - at both national and local levels - and reiterated the point made by several speakers at the meeting that an effective response to the pandemic must have human rights and gender equality at its core.

"We must not lose the momentum of the global response," Kerim said.

By the end of last year, according to the latest UN report, 3 million people had access to antiretroviral treatment in low- and middle-income countries; an increase of nearly a million over the previous year but still only 31 percent of those in need of such treatment.
ma/ks/oa [END]


Friday 13 June 2008


AFRICA: One voice on climate change


JOHANNESBURG, 12 June 2008 (IRIN) - Africa needs one common strategy on climate change to stand any chance of persuading rich countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by between 25 to 40 percent by 2020, environment ministers agreed at a meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, this week.


"Africa only emits 3.8 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions, but will suffer the most from the climate threat, so it needs to ensure that its voice is heard," said Ogunlade Davidson, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) working group on mitigation.


The IPCC has suggested cuts of between 25 and 40 percent by 2020 to avoid a 2-degree Celsius increase in global temperature - the kind of increase that is expected to destroy 30 to 40 percent of all known species, with bigger, fiercer and more frequent heat waves and droughts, and more intense weather events like floods and cyclones.


The impact on Africa will be dire. Food production is expected to halve by 2020, and 250 million people - over 25 percent of Africa's population - will not have easy access to water.


No delays


"We cannot afford to delay any more. We have agencies like UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] who have been trying to get one united African voice on board. This process here at AMCEN [the African Ministerial Conference on Environment] is the beginning to get the African Union (AU) to buy in to the process," said Davidson.


Namibia's environment minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah noted, "We have decided that the African Union has to take our position forward at the negotiations [between the developed and developing countries]." Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, industrialised countries agreed to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and help the developed world reduce theirs.


The ministers meeting in Johannesburg this week have asked the AU to adopt a common African position at its 13th summit in June and July 2009, ahead of the Copenhagen climate change summit in December that year. At Copenhagen a new agreement to cut emissions is expected to be approved before the first commitment phase of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012.


Talk is cheap


But Africa needs to more than just gear itself up for the negotiations. Under the Bali Roadmap, approved at the last major climate change talks in the Indonesian Island in December 2007, developing countries agreed to put in place "measurable, reportable and verifiable " steps to tackle their emissions, supported by cleaner technology, financing and skills building, said Davidson. "Most countries in Africa don't have the capacity to do that."


Several funds have been announced by rich countries to help Africa adapt and access clean energy technologies. "We need to be proactive and engage these funds - but the question is do we have the capacity to receive these technologies?" pointed out Davidson.


All these strategies will have to be chalked up under an "African roadmap" in the next few months, he said. In the meantime, African countries can mitigate some of the impact of climate change.


"We can save our food production - about 50 percent of our food production is wasted off and on farms every year because we still harvest and market our produce by hand -w e can opt for simple mechanized farming techniques - we can also start harvesting water." jk/oa [END]



Wednesday 11 June 2008


DRC: Sexual abuse widespread among fresh wave deportees from Angola


KINSHASA, 11 June 2008 (IRIN) - Most women arriving in parts of the province of Kasai Occidental in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) among a new wave of some 27,000 deportees from Angola, have been sexually abused, a local health official said.


"There are many injured people and 80 percent of the women [who arrived]  had been raped," Pierre Didi Mpata, a doctor and director of an NGO running a local health centre in Kamako village. The village is located along the Congolese border with Angola.


According to Kemal Saiki, the spokesman for the UN mission in DRC, MONUC, some 22,230 DRC citizens sent back from Angola between the end of May and 9 June were now between Kahungua and Tembo, some 95 kilometres from the Angolan border.


"The numbers keep growing," he said, adding that those expelled lacked adequate food and blankets. "They have nothing and are exhausted after their long walk." An additional 5,000 are now located in Kamako, also in Kasai Occidental province, he said.


Among the people who had been sexually abused was Caroline Lomelo (name changed), a mother of two. Lomelo spoke with difficulty as she was attended to at the health centre.


"I was badly beaten up and raped by five Angolan police officers when they forcefully expelled us," she said. Lomelo returned to the DRC five days ago from Angola.

According to Mpata, Lomelo can barely stand because she has a sexually transmitted infection. She is also six months pregnant.


"She is in danger of having an abortion because of the [gonorrhoea] infection she contracted," Mpata said.


Lomelo, who was training to be a nurse, said she had gone to Angola from her home town of Lodja, in the central province of Kasai Oriental, to look for her brother.


There are other patients who are waiting to be operated on at the health centre after they suffered internal injuries due to the sexual violence, according to Mpata. "It's a miracle they survived," he said.


Those who had returned were living in churches and schools where supplies of basic items were inadequate, Mpata said. They had arrived in the DRC after walking for at least 100 km.


On 5 December 2007, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) denounced what it described as "the pervasive and systematic use of rape and violence perpetrated by the Angolan army during the expulsions of Congolese migrants working in diamond mines in the Angolan province of Lunda Norte".


Previous mass expulsions in the area had been halted by an agreement between the two countries.


The Angolan authorities began to expel illegal immigrants from the country in December 2003, targeting illegal workers in its diamond mines near the border with the DRC. ei/aw/jm [END]


Friday 6 June 2008


DRC: Thousands displaced after rebel attacks

KINSHASA, 5 June 2008 (IRIN) - Up to 5,000 people have been displaced following a Rwandan rebel attack on two civilian camps in a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo province of North Kivu, a humanitarian official said.

"The Force armιes pour la libιration du Rwanda (FDLR) attacked two camps in Kinyando [on 4 June] where the residents of a neighbouring village had sought refuge after fleeing fighting between the FDLR and the Congolese army," Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich, a spokesperson for the United Nations Mission in the DRC (MONUC) said. Kinyando is located 70 km north of Goma, the main town in the province.

At least six people were killed and another 14 injured in the attack which displaced between 2,000 and 5,000 people, Dietrich said.

The rebel atack was in reaction to military operations launched by the DRC's armed forces against Rwandan rebels in the villages, he said.

The special representative of the UN Secretary General in the DRC, Alan Doss, along with US and European Union representatives in the region condemned the "terrorist" acts against the civilian population. A team had also been sent to the area to assess the situation.

Following increased security after the attacks, some of the displaced people had begun returning to the village, Dietrich said.

The attack took place at a time when the government and two small Rwandan Hutu rebel groups were awaiting the implementation of a roadmap for their disarmament and demobilisation. The roadmap was announced in the town of Kisangani in late May.

The FDLR declined did not participate in the Kisangani process and has disowned the roadmap. ei/aw/am[END]


DRC-RWANDA: DRC: A small step towards peace in the east (analysis)

KISANGANI, 5 June 2008 (IRIN) - A disarmament pledge by two minor Rwandan Hutu rebel groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a welcome, if small, step to restoring peace in the devastated region, according to the government and analysts.

Rwandan insurgents are one of the key elements in a complex web of armed groups in a region where violence, especially sexual violence against women, is still widespread five years after the official end of DRC's last civil war. Well over a million people in eastern DRC are internally displaced and most depend on assistance from humanitarian agencies.

Under the 'roadmap for disarmament', unveiled in the city of Kisangani on 26 May, the Ralliement pour l'unitι et la democratiι (RUD) and the Rassemblement populaire rwandais (RPR) agreed to gather at two sites and start handing over their weapons. In return, they want their security to be guaranteed, the UN mission in DRC, MONUC, to oversee the process, and the DRC government not to forcibly repatriate them to Rwanda.

"I think since we are offering to disarm and to be relocated, the international community will aid in convincing the Rwandan government that it is essential that there is a political framework; a framework is simply inter-Rwandan dialogue to ensure the fighters [in DRC] feel safe to go home," RUD spokesman Augustin Dukuze told IRIN.

The Rwandan government, however, has long refused to talk to those it holds responsible for the 1994 genocide. President Paul Kagame twice sent troops into eastern DRC to try to neutralise the so-called 'gιnocidaires'.

The roadmap was immediately disowned by the much larger, if somewhat fragmented, Forces dιmocratiques pour la liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), which boasts around 7,000 fighters, compared to RUD and RPR's estimated 400.

"Whatever happened in Kisangani does not concern us because we were not present," said FDLR spokesman Ignace Murwanashyaka.

Long road ahead

Nevertheless, for Anneke van Woudenberg, a senior researcher on DRC for Human Rights Watch, the agreement left room for optimism.

"The Kisangani meeting was a step in the right direction by encouraging some Rwandan armed groups in Congo to disarm and resettle in Rwanda or elsewhere, but we are far from reaching the end of the road," she told IRIN.

"It's the FDLR who pose a serious problem for peace in eastern Congo and the safety and security of its citizens. Their failure to participate was disappointing," said Woudenberg, adding, however, that armed action against the group should only be used once all other means had been exhausted.

In November 2007 in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, the DRC and Rwandan governments renewed their commitment to dealing with such armed groups in an agreement that provided for the use of military action if efforts towards voluntary disarmament failed.

"As part of these non-violent options, diplomats must remind the Congolese government that they must stop any financial or military support given to FDLR combatants, either directly or indirectly, through other groups . They must also urge Rwandan authorities to take concrete steps towards providing an environment that would encourage the voluntary return of FDLR combatants," added Woudenberg.

David Mugnier, Central Africa Project Director for the International Crisis Group, was also encouraged by the roadmap, despite the small size of the groups involved, saying it could finally "kick start the process of disarmament, repatriation or relocation", not least because the process is backed by the DRC government, civil society in the Kivu provinces and most of the international community.

"Whether or not these two groups will effectively regroup and disarm is a bit too early to say but [...] the process seems to be on track and this could create an incentive for other combatants to join it," Mugnier told IRIN.

But the process is not without risks, he added. "It cannot be excluded that the FDLR could rapidly take control of the areas vacated by RUD and RPR. For the moment the capacity of MONUC and the [DRC military] to challenge them is limited."

Renewed efforts

MONUC spokesman, Kemal Saiki, told IRIN that representatives of "certain branches of the FDLR" had actually been present during the Kisangani talks, even if the group proper had distanced itself from the roadmap.

"So I don't think it will be long before discussions take place. [But] there is a principle that is not negotiable and that is the departure or the temporary relocation [of the armed Rwandan Hutu groups in eastern DRC]", he said.

Getting the FDLR on board "is the aim of the Nairobi process", added Saiki.

"There are sensitisation efforts going on... there are also political and diplomatic options and military pressure that are still present."

Some of the diplomatic pressure comes from the United States, an active sponsor of peace efforts in eastern DRC. "The time is now for the Rwandan armed groups in Eastern Congo to disarm and repatriate or face consequences of further isolation and condemnation," the State Department warned in late May.

Seraphin Ngwej, Joseph Kabila's roving ambassador and special envoy for the Great Lakes region, told IRIN that two disarmament sites and eight transit sites had already been identified.

"We are not talking about size of the groups involved but the possibility of solving once and for all the issue of Rwandan combatants in the DRC. In the DRC, there's no RUD, FDLR/FOCA (the armed wing of FDLR), no RPR, there is only the problem of the Rwandan armed groups, and once one of the groups is involved in the process, we consider it a very good thing," he said.

Last chance

Congo's Interior and Security Minister, Gen. Denis Kalume, said, "This process [disarmament and demobilisation] is the last chance for all the Rwandan armed groups before forceful action is taken."

According to MONUC, the DRC army has already deployed supplementary battalions in North Kivu's Walikale district, and in areas previously under FDLR's control.

However, Philippe Biyoya, a professor of political science at Kinshasa's Protestant University, said this was a dangerous move.

"I think using military operations to compel them to disarm won't be a solution for the government because the FDLR are well organised and that will trigger a new Rwandan war on Congolese soil," he warned. ei-am/bn/jm[END]


Thursday 29 May 2008


RDC: Camps de déplacés spontanés, une tendance préoccupante


NAIROBI, 28 mai 2008 (IRIN) - La communauté humanitaire du Nord-Kivu, dans l'est de la République démocratique du Congo (RDC), a exprimé des préoccupations au sujet de la prolifération des camps « spontanés » de personnes déplacées à l'intérieur de leur propre pays (PDIP) dans la province, qui compte au moins 857 000 PDIP.


« Ces camps spontanés, assez nouveaux au Nord-Kivu, sont essentiellement dus au peu de moyens dont disposent les familles d'accueil pour héberger les déplacés », a indiqué à IRIN Caroline Draveny, chargée de communication publique au Bureau des Nations Unies pour la coordination des affaires humanitaires (OCHA). « Nous nous efforçons de trouver le moyen d'aider les PDIP touchés, ainsi que les familles d'accueil elles-mêmes ».


Certaines organisations humanitaires, dont plusieurs agences des Nations Unies et organisations non-gouvernementales (ONG), ont formé un groupe de travail chargé de concevoir des méthodes et des moyens adaptés pour traiter l'émergence de ces camps spontanés.


Selon un bulletin d'information humanitaire publié par OCHA sur la période du 17 au 23 mai, les territoires de Rutshuru et de Masisi comptent au moins 20 camps de PDIP spontanés et 11 camps de PDIP organisés.


En plus du nombre croissant des camps spontanés, la question de l'occupation des édifices publics (tels que les églises et les établissements scolaires de Rutshuru) par des PDIP doit être résolue, selon l'agence.


« Depuis le mois de janvier, trois écoles primaires de la ville de Rutshuru ont été occupées par des PDIP », a expliqué Mme Draveny. « Cela a des conséquences néfastes directes sur l'éducation [des enfants] ».


La communauté humanitaire s'efforce de trouver des solutions pour faire libérer les édifices publics, a-t-elle ajouté.


En ce qui concerne la situation de sécurité dans la province, OCHA a expliqué qu'au moins 10 incidents de sécurité avaient été déclarés au cours de la période couverte par le bulletin ; parmi ces incidents : le pillage de deux véhicules, dont l'un appartient à une ONG internationale. Aucun décès n'a en revanche été signalé.


« Cela porte à 12 le nombre des incidents de sécurité dirigés contre les travailleurs humanitaires, sur ce territoire depuis le mois de janvier 2008 », selon OCHA.


La province du Nord-Kivu ainsi que d'autres régions de l'est du Congo sont le théâtre d'un conflit qui dure depuis plusieurs années, malgré la conclusion d'un accord en 2003, qui a ramené le calme dans la plupart des régions de ce vaste pays.


Une majorité des derniers affrontements survenus au Nord-Kivu, en mai et à la fin du mois d'avril, opposaient l'armée congolaise aux Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), une faction armée hutu d'environ 6 000 hommes, formée par les auteurs fugitifs du génocide rwandais de 1994.


Le gouvernement de la RDC et plusieurs factions armées de la province du Nord-Kivu ont signé un accord de cessez-le-feu en janvier, mais cette trêve a été rompue à plusieurs reprises, ce qui a entraîné une hausse du nombre de déplacés.


Selon les prévisions de certains analystes, il est probable que davantage de civils soient déplacés au cours des prochaines semaines et des prochains mois, à mesure que l'armée congolaise tente une incursion offensive dans les zones aux mains des FDLR.  js/jm/nh/ail  [FIN]



DRC: Rise in spontaneous IDP sites worrying - official

NAIROBI, 28 May 2008 (IRIN) - The humanitarian community in North Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has expressed concern over the proliferation of the number of "spontaneous" sites for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the province, hosting at least 857,000 IDPs.

"These spontaneous sites are quite new in North Kivu and they are mainly
linked to reduced capacities of host families to accommodate the displaced," Caroline Draveny, the public information officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told IRIN. "We are working on ways of assisting the affected IDPs as well as the host families themselves."

Aid agencies - incorporating UN agencies and non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) - have set up a working group to devise ways and means of dealing with the spontaneous sites.

According to an OCHA humanitarian update for 17-23 May, the territories of
Rutshuru and Masisi have at least 20 spontaneous IDP sites and 11 managed IDP camps.

In addition to the growing number of spontaneous sites, the issue of the
occupation by IDPs of public buildings such as churches and schools in Rutshuru territory needs to be solved, the agency said.

"Since January, three primary schools in Rutshuru town have been occupied by IDPs," Draveny said. "This has direct negative consequences for education."

She added that the humanitarian community was working on finding solutions for vacating these public buildings.

Regarding the province's security situation, OCHA said at least 10 security incidents had been reported during the period under review; these included the looting of two vehicles, one belonging to an international NGO. No casualties were reported.

"This brings the number of security incidents against humanitarian workers to 12 since January 2008 in this territory," OCHA said.

North Kivu province and other parts of eastern Congo have experienced several years of conflict despite the signing of an agreement in 2003 that brought calm to most parts of the vast country.

Most of the latest clashes in North Kivu, in May and late April, have pitted the Congolese army against the Forces Démocratique de la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu armed group of about 6,000, founded by fugitive perpetrators of Rwanda's genocide in 1994.

The DRC government and several armed groups in North Kivu province signed a ceasefire in January, but the truce has been repeatedly violated, increasing the number of displaced.

Analysts have predicted that even more civilian displacement is likely in the coming weeks and months because the Congolese army is moving aggressively into areas held by the FDLR.Js/jm


Wednesday 21 May 2008


DRC: Cholera outbreak in North Kivu worsens

KINSHASA, 20 May 2008 (IRIN) - An outbreak of cholera in North Kivu province, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has claimed more sufferers in the past two weeks, medical and humanitarian officials said.

The most severely affected areas are the health zones of Pinga and Mweso
in the upper and forested Masisi North area.

"The cholera epidemic has fluctuated in this zone but over the past couple of weeks we have seen a dramatic rise in [the number of] cases," said Gaby Lumangamenga of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) in the North Kivu capital, Goma.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
(OCHA) in Goma, 12 deaths were reported in Pinga over just one week in late April, while 159 cases were recorded between 5 and 11 May.

Lumangamenga said Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Solidarités had built
water chlorination facilities and latrines but the problem persisted because the residents did not like to drink chlorinated water.

"They say it has a disagreeable smell and persist in drinking water from rivers," Lumangamenga said.

He said although there was a high number of cholera cases in Mweso, fatalities were relatively low because MSF-Belgium had opened a clinic there.

North Kivu's Masisi area has, in the past, been the theatre of fighting between several armed groups that have continued to wage war in eastern Congo, despite a 2003 peace agreement that restored calm to most parts of the country.

Caroline Draveny, the OCHA spokeswoman in Goma, said the area was still tense despite there having been no fighting in the past month.

OCHA estimates that Mweso has up to 70,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kachuga, Kalembe and Mweso villages, which have a combined population of 213,000.

The fighting pits the Congolese army and the Congrès national pour la
défense du people (CNDP), a rebel group led by renegade army commander Laurent Nkunda, who claims to be defending the rights of the Tutsi in the country. The other armed groups include the Patriotes résistants congolais (Pareco - of the Hunde ethnic community) and Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Forces démocratiques pour la liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), largely accused of being responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

CNDP and Pareco are signatories to the latest ceasefire agreed with the government in January in Goma. However, since then, they have violated the peace deal and have yet to be integrated into the army.

"There is still tension because the different groups do not live together
but side by side," said a humanitarian worker, working in Masisi, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ei/am/mw[END]


Thursday 15 May 2008

DRC: After two key deals, what progress towards peace in North Kivu?

KINSHASA, 14 May 2008 (IRIN) - Two agreements signed since the end of 2007 offer some hope for an end to more than a decade of violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), even if fighting has continued and a lasting solution has yet to be found to the presence in the region of Rwandan Hutu rebels, according to analysts.

Since the DRC government and various armed groups in the chronically unstable North Kivu province signed a ceasefire in January, the truce has been repeatedly violated and the number of displaced civilians in the province has increased.

The ceasefire was one of the highlights of an "Act of Engagement" signed on 23 January in Goma, capital of North Kivu province, where some 847,000 people are displaced.

According to the UN mission in DRC, MONUC, by the end of April 2008 there had been "a few hundred" violations of the terms of the ceasefire. Although all such incidents involved firearms, many were minor confrontations such as cattle theft.

The Act was signed by the DRC government, rebels led by renegade general Laurent Nkunda, and several dozen other armed groups of varying degrees of allegiance and hostility to the government in Kinshasa. The aim was to restore peace to both North and South Kivu, foster reconciliation between hostile groups and promote development in an area rich in natural resources.

Although there has been some progress in the provisions of the Goma deal, there has only been a reduction - rather than a halt - in fighting, while the humanitarian and human rights crisis in North Kivu has seen little or no improvement.

"The security situation has improved since the signing of the Act of Engagement," said Caroline Draveny, head of information for North Kivu at the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). "There have been far fewer clashes, and of a lesser intensity compared to November and December 2007," she added.

"But reports of atrocities, sexual violence in particular, are still very alarming. This latent insecurity is still preventing displaced populations from returning home and prompts some people into displacement," said Draveny.

Civilian displacement

More than half a million of North Kivu's internally displaced people (IDPs) have left their homes since the start of Nkunda's insurgency in December 2006.

Most of the latest clashes, in early May and late April, pitted government forces (FARDC) against the Forces Démocratique de la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu armed group of about 6,000, founded by fugitive perpetrators of Rwanda's genocide in 1994. The presence of the FDLR in eastern DRC has been a key element of the region's insecurity ever since. But because the FDLR is predominantly a Rwandan, rather than Congolese, group, it did not take part in the Goma conference.

Even more civilian displacement is likely in the coming weeks and months because FARDC is moving aggressively into areas held by the FDLR, which was allied to the government during the war that raged in DRC between 1997 and 2003, sucking in forces from more than half a dozen nearby states.

In November 2007, the DRC government made a fresh commitment to disarm the FDLR and send its fighters back to Rwanda, by force if necessary.

Following this agreement, signed with Rwanda in Nairobi, there has been "fighting in the areas of Ngwenda and Kinandonyi, in the north of central Rutshuru district, since 21 April", said Draveny.

Guerrilla war

Some analysts fear military moves alone against the FDLR are destined to fail.

"FARDC has no capacity to fight the FDLR successfully and even for a well-trained and equipped army it would be difficult to fight them since they are in the bush and fight a guerrilla war," according to Henri Boshoff of the South African Institute for Security Studies.

"The only realistic option in dealing with the FDLR is a combination of political negotiations and economic pressure run in parallel with military pressure by FARDC/MONUC, and the continuation of the current demobilisation, disarmament, reintegration, repatriation and resettlement programme in which FDLR combatants are encouraged to voluntarily return to Rwanda," advised Boshoff.

He says the FDLR, which has flatly rejected the Nairobi deal and had no part in its drafting, would only go back to Rwanda if there were a chance it could take part in politics there.

"The two processes [Nairobi and Goma] should run concomitantly to achieve a better result," said Anneke van Woudenberg, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.

Rwanda's role

Rwanda has a role to play here. Under the Nairobi Communiqué, it was supposed to give the DRC government a list of FDLR members it deemed to be "genocidaires" who should be handed over for trial. But when the list was drawn up, it named 7,000 people. Given that DRC estimates that some 30 percent of the FDLR are Congolese nationals, the list is not likely to be taken seriously.

"Rwanda is raising the stakes and refusing to see the problem resolved," Justin Bitakwira, a national deputy who played an active part in the Goma peace conference, told IRIN.

"Given the fragility of the government, unleashing a disarmament force against the FDLR would be very audacious because the system in place has not been up to dismantling the CNDP [Comité Nationale pour la Defence du Peuple, Nkunda's group], which is less structured than the FDLR. It is as if one did not know how to attack a rat but one dares to attack a cat," added Bitakwira.

"The issue is that the CNDP might be going to integrate with the army in line with the [Goma deal] timetable, but the CNDP cannot agree to do this whilst leaving the FDLR in the bush, and the FDLR cannot agree to being disarmed as long as the CNDP is armed and operational," Bitakwira said.

Timetable agreed

Still, there have been advances in implementing the provisions of the Goma deal. Several follow-up committees comprising representatives of the various signatories have been set up. On 21 April a timetable was agreed for components of the Act, such as the return of IDPs, sensitisation of armed groups, and their disarmament ahead of their possible integration into the national army.

But progress, according to some participants, is slow. "The return of refugees cannot be realised within 78 days as envisaged in the timetable and the entire pacification process will not have finished by this date, contrary to the schedule we adopted, because the army will not have visibly ended its operations against the FDLR," said Kambasu Ngeve, head of the CNDP delegation.

The work of committee meetings has been hampered by power games and walkouts.

"It is a question of interests, and many armed groups see the posts in the follow-up committees as a slice of the cake, and they can no longer content themselves with sharing these posts," added Ngeve.

"That is a pity because there are people who do not want peace in North Kivu and who are in favour of the Balkanisation of the country. Those who mine coltan and other minerals are playing at all levels to ensure this situation continues in confusion, allowing them the time to continue to do what they do," lamented Sophie Bwiza, spokeswoman for the Patriotes résistants congolais (PARECO), a militia group formed to counter the threat from Nkunda.

Too little, too late

It was all too little, too late for 63 human rights NGOs that in late April collectively called on the United Nations and other sponsors of the Goma deal to push things forward and appoint a senior independent adviser on human rights for eastern DRC.

"Hundreds of thousands of victims clung to the hope that the peace deal would end their suffering. Sadly, no meaningful progress has been made on human rights commitments," HRW's Van Woudenberg said in the statement.

For DRC President Joseph Kabila, it is too soon to judge the success of the peace process. "By 30 June an evaluation will be made of what has been done after the Goma conference. It will be decided if we are on the right track . or if it is necessary to move up a gear," he told the Belgian newspaper Le Soir. ei/cb/am/mw [END]