News & Current Affairs

November 1, 2008

Regional DR Congo talks planned

Internally displaced Congolese people leave Goma, 31 October 2008

Fears are growing for thousands of people who have fled into the bush

The Rwandan and Congolese presidents have agreed to try to end fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and his Congolese counterpart Joseph Kabila agreed to attend a regional summit after talks with a senior EU official on Friday.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband are due to meet the two men and visit Goma on Saturday.

The UN refugee agency has described the situation as “a total disaster”.

Aid groups say they are struggling to reach 250,000 people fleeing fighting between government and rebel forces.

European Union Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel said the only way to resolve the crisis was through a summit involving all regional leaders.

He said agreement had been reached on the prospect of a regional summit after two days of talks in the Congolese capital Kinshasa and the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

“They are both fully agreed on the idea of having this summit,” Mr Michel told.

But renegade rebel general Laurent Nkunda had not yet been asked to join the talks, Mr Michel added.

A ceasefire is holding in and around Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, but aid agencies say the situation there remains highly volatile.

Gen Nkunda’s forces are positioned some 15km (nine miles) from the city, which they have threatened to take unless UN peacekeepers guarantee the ceasefire and security there.

Refugee stampede

As diplomatic efforts to end the crisis gathered pace on Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday called leaders in Africa, Europe and the US to urge them to “do all they can to bring the parties to a neutral venue for negotiations”.

Congolese soldier with refugee women in Goma - 30/10/2008

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, the current African Union chairman, and AU Commission chief Jean Ping said the summit could be held in the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam or the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Food, water and medicine in the city are scarce, and many international relief workers have pulled out after reports widespread rape and looting by retreating Congolese troops.

The BBC’s Orla Guerin witnessed scenes of chaos at a refugee camp in Kibati outside Goma, as desperately hungry people surged towards aid distribution points.

Children were trampled underfoot and panicked aid staff were forced to beat back the heaving crowd.

Some who reached Kibati told the BBC they had more chance of getting food in the forests than inside Goma.

Trading accusations

The UN refugee agency said camps sheltering 50,000 refugees in Rutshuru, 90km north of Goma, had been forcibly emptied, looted and then burnt to the ground.

“There are some 50,000 people who were in those camps,” said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond. “We don’t know where they would be, we’re afraid that they may have just dispersed off into the bush.”

The UN has more than 17,000 peacekeeping troops in DR Congo – the largest UN force in the world – but correspondents say it is struggling to cope with the scale of the current crisis.

The origin of the ongoing conflict in eastern DR Congo is the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda.

Gen Nkunda says he is fighting to protect his Tutsi community from attack by Rwandan Hutu rebels, some of whom are accused of taking part in the genocide.

The Congolese government has often promised to stop Hutu forces from using its territory, but has not done so.

There have also been accusations of collusion between DR Congo’s army and Hutu guerrillas.

The Congolese government, for its part, has accused Rwanda of backing Gen Nkunda.

Rwanda denies this, but it has twice invaded its much larger neighbour in recent years.

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August 8, 2008

Migrants rescued off Italy coast

Migrants rescued off Italy coast

Migrants gathered in a reception centre on the Italian island of Lampedusa

Some 12,000 people have arrived in Lampedusa since January

Italian vessels have rescued at least 250 would-be migrants from boats and vessels off the coast of Italy.

The navy rescued at least 175 people, believed to be from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia from three vessels, 190km (120 miles) south of Lampedusa island.

A further 72 people – including seven women and a child – were rescued from a rubber dinghy by the coastguard.

Local politicians say Lampedusa is facing a crisis with 12,000 would-be migrants brought ashore since January.

Dangerous journey

The Italian navy agreed to rescue those onboard the three vessels after they ran out of fuel and water in Libyan territorial waters.

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, had appealed to Malta, Libya and Italy to rescue the stranded vessels.

A UNHCR spokesman told Reuters news agency he believed some 25 women and six children were among those on board.

Those rescued from the dinghy 80km south of Lampedusa included seven women and a child, Italian media report.

Thousands of Africans risk their lives to make the perilous journey each year, many leaving in makeshift vessels from Libya hoping to gain entry to Europe via Italy or Malta.

Last year, according to rights watchdog the Council of Europe, some 51,000 migrants arrived by boat in Italy, Spain, Greece and Malta, many of them asylum seekers and refugees who lack legal avenues to enter Europe.

Emergency services in Italy have warned that crowded holding centres in the country are on the verge of collapse, worsening a state of emergency declared by the Italian government over immigrants.

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