Christian emergency response organizations have expressed alarm at a deteriorating situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province and about brutalities innocent civilians are facing in a potential humanitarian catastrophe.
The Geneva-based ACT International (Action by Churches Together) said in a statement on October 30 that it had accounts from aid workers of looted shops and dead bodies on the pavements in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
"It has been a night of horror, but Goma is quiet now," ACT International quoted one of its aid workers as saying. Emergency work became paralysed after aid workers themselves were withdrawn from the field for security reasons, while thousands of people have sought refuge as rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda has moved towards the city.
In Manila, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on October 30 appealed for an end to the fighting in the DRC saying, "Unfortunately, the situation in Goma is worrisome. There were some attacks even against the United Nations mission by civilian people."
Emile Mpanya, ACT representative in Kisangani, the most northerly navigable point on the River Congo, said that the U.N. security service has asked the emergency agencies to withdraw international staff from the area.
Mpanya said he had received eyewitness accounts of armed groups shooting and engaging in overnight looting. Many shops have been pillaged and houses broken into. A family of nine, including a breastfeeding baby, was killed in the Katindo area. Several corpses were found in the streets on the morning of October 30.
The ACT International statement said, "The population in Goma is confused. They can hardly find out who is in charge in town and what soldiers they see walking in the streets. Thousands have fled to Goma in panic. Others are on the run out of town, mostly families of the retreating Congolese soldiers."
Mpanya, who works for the Lutheran World Service, a member of ACT International, said that people also have moved to Lubero, 93 miles north of Goma town. Many of them are wounded soldiers and civilians.
"It is feared that with the fall of Goma to the rebels, the retreating soldiers will commit brutalities on the population," said Mpanya. Most of the displaced people are the families of retreating soldiers, mostly their wives.
Another Christian organization in the area, World Vision, said it had evacuated its office in Goma into neighboring Rwanda during the rapidly deteriorating security conditions.
World Vision's communications advisor Michael Arunga said in a statement, "We heard sounds of gunfire and witnessed scenes of panic near World Vision's Goma office, not long after the United Nation's OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] issued an advisory this morning on the growing insecurity in Goma."
World Vision said it is calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities by all parties and for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to enable access by aid workers to those in need. "Given that many humanitarian workers have now been forced to relocate or evacuate, the international community, led by the U.N., immediately [should] develop a plan to address the current humanitarian crisis resulting from the latest displacements, in addition to the ongoing humanitarian needs," said World Vision.
Ecumenical News International