The humanitarian crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo was top of Pope Benedict XVI’s concerns this Wednesday as he began his greetings in Italian with another appeal for aid for the people of the nation, the scene of armed clashes and violence.
“A large part of the population lacks the primary means of subsistence” said the Pope, adding that “thousands of residents have been forced to flee their homes to seek refuge elsewhere”. Pope Benedict renewed his call for dialogue and reconciliation and he asked the international community to work to “provide for the needs of the population”.
The 23 March (M23) rebel movement pulled its fighters out of the North Kivu provincial capital Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Saturday after seizing it from fleeing U.N.-backed government forces and holding it for 11 days.
Goma lies at the heart of Congo's eastern borderlands which have suffered nearly two decades of conflict stoked by long-standing ethnic and political enmities and fighting over the region's rich resources of gold, tin, tungsten and coltan - a precious metal used to make mobile phones.
Successive attacks by rebels, militias and government soldiers have made the region notorious for mass killings,recruitment of child soldiers and rape used as a weapon of war.
The U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA says at least 130,000 people have been displaced and are now in sites and camps in and around Goma. U.N. officials said a camp about 15 km outside Goma had been raided by unidentified gunmen late on Friday. Several women were raped and food and supplies stolen. In addition, there are an estimated 841,000 people who were already displaced before this latest wave of insecurity.
The M23 is composed of Tutsi former rebels that had been integrated into Congo's army under a previous peace deal mutinied in April. In a development likely to stoke diplomatic tensions, a group of experts tasked by the U.N. Security Council has presented new evidence alleging M23 received "direct support" from the Rwandan Defence Force (RDF) to capture Goma. Rwanda has strongly and repeatedly rejected previous allegations made by the same U.N. experts that the Rwandan government has created, equipped, trained and directly commanded the M23 rebellion in Congo's North Kivu. Similar accusations against Uganda's government have also been denied by Kampala.