Democratic Republic of Congo: Caution reings among displaced despite new scenario in the East

The agreement followed the sudden end of hostilities between the Congolese military and the rebel movement, the National Congress in Defence of the People (CNDP), after the arrest of its leader Laurent Nkunda. Recent events have provided a new scenario in North Kivu. These developments could be a key step in putting an end to war in the region, JRS staff in Goma told Dispatches on 12 February. However, many fear the joint military operation could trigger more unnecessary suffering in an already war-ravaged province.

During his visit to eastern DRC between 6-10 February, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, urged all parties to the conflict to redouble efforts to protect civilians. Before his arrival, a group of 100 humanitarian and human rights organisations, including JRS, wrote an open letter to Mr Holmes stressing the importance of protecting civilians in the latest North Kivu operations.

More caution than hope

Many of the estimated 809,000 displaced persons in North Kivu are reluctant to return home. In the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the outskirts of the South Kivu capital, Goma, there is more caution than hope among the IDPs, according to JRS staff.

"Politicians arrived in the camp and told us to go home, but we do not understand how if Rwandan soldiers and FDLR rebels are there. I prefer to stay here to see how the situation evolves", Benoit, a teenager living in Mugunga I camp told the JRS team.

A history of failed peace agreements and a lack of information create a strong feeling of uncertainty regarding the future, especially for those from Masisi and Rutshuru in North Kivu.

"I would go home if there was peace, I mean real peace. But people are still suffering. And if fighting re-starts, they will flee again", said Aaron, another teenager at Mugunga I camp.

International community slow to respond

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is struggling to find the additional peacekeepers requested by the UN Security Council last November. Although the situation has "improved dramatically", he said on 10 February, it remains fragile and peacekeepers will still be needed.