Voicing concern about the ongoing crisis in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where tens of thousands of people have been displaced by recent fighting, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today announced that his senior aide will travel to the country for talks with top officials.
In a statement released by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban also cited the impact of the crisis on the region in announcing that Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios will leave this evening for a "special mission" to the region.
Mr. Menkerios previously served as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the DRC.
"Mr. Menkerios will consult with the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and other leaders in the region, as well as the DRC's bilateral and multilateral partners, to find ways to resolve the immediate crisis and to address its underlying causes," spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters in New York.
"In carrying out his mission, Mr. Menkerios will coordinate closely with the Secretary-General's Special Representative for the DRC and with international partners currently engaged in initiatives to help resolve the crisis," she added.
Meanwhile in Kinshasa, a spokesman for the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) estimated that some 200 children are currently serving among the Congolese Army troops deployed to fight dissident soldiers in the North Kivu province.
"Once more, MONUC recalls that the presence of children within all armed groups constitutes a war crime and a crime against humanity," said Kemal Saiki, urging the Congolese military authorities to release the minors within their ranks and immediately stop their recruitment.
The Mission also praised the judicial and military leaders of the Bukavu region for their determined efforts to end the jailing of children by military jurisdictions. While unable to quantify the number of underage detainees released in Bukavu following the adoption of this decision, the Mission cited it as an example which should be followed by other Congolese jurisdictions, in particular that of the North Kivu province where accused child soldiers are frequently jailed.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), for its part, has begun a vast anti-measles immunization campaign that will benefit some 33,000 children.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today reported that almost 176,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since September when fighting resumed between government troops and those loyal to dissident General Laurent Nkunda.
The humanitarian contingency plan for the province, last updated in August this year, is based on the calculation that there could be 320,000 newly displaced people before the end of 2007, OCHA noted, pointing out that current figures of displaced already amount to half this number.
Mr. Andrew Wyllie, OCHA's acting Head of Office, stressed that "through collaborative efforts and careful planning of emergency assistance, the humanitarian community in North Kivu managed to anticipate the recent massive population movements."
OCHA said there are 40,000 non-food item kits to cover the potential needs of 200,000 beneficiaries, most of which are being distributed.
Today, WFP is again trying to increase amounts delivered to Goma to ensure food distribution for 500,000 people. UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) have contributed 120 essential medicines kits
As long as the crisis remains at the current level of intensity and there is not a marked increase in the rate of displacement, the humanitarian community has the capacity to respond to the needs of affected populations, OCHA said.
But it warned that an all out military assault on the armed groups in the province would have major consequences. "We are currently reassessing our planning figures, our available materials and human resources. A rapid deterioration of the situation could easily overwhelm our existing capacities and make the current humanitarian crisis very difficult to manage," explained Mr. Wyllie.
OCHA stressed that all parties to the conflict must provide relief organizations and humanitarian personnel access to populations in need. "We count on Congolese authorities and armed groups to facilitate humanitarian access to all vulnerable populations," Mr. Wylie said.