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Update No. 97/04 on ICRC activities related to the Zairian conflict

25-03-1997 Operational Update

 Breakthrough for ICRC operations in Alliance-held areas  

On 19 March the ICRC delegation in Goma finally received written authorisation from the Alliance to fly to Kisangani (Haut Zaire), Kalima, Kindu and Shabunda (Kivu), and Bunia (Haut Zaire) and Beni (Northern Kivu). Delegates are preparing to fly to Kalima or Kindu as soon as possible to follow up some 25,000 refugees in Kalima as well as several thousand Zairian displaced who were assisted by the ICRC before the area fell into the hands of the Alliance. Last weeks'attempt to reach Kalemie by boat had to be abandoned and is now planned for later this week.

 The ICRC reopens its subdelegation in Kisangani  

On Thursday 20 March, an ICRC team returned to Kisangani to assess the situation and work out a plan of action on the basis of its findings. As a first step, delegates established contact with the authorities, the Zairian Red Cross and staff in charge of medical and social structures. All relief activities on behalf of the victims of the conflict will continue to be carried out in co-operation with the Zairian Red Cross, with overall co-ordination undertaken by the ICRC. During the absence of international organizations (Red Cross, UN and NGOs), the Zairian Red Cross continued to transfer wounded to the hospital, provide first-aid and assist the internally displaced in Kisangani. It also collected and buried 33 dead bodies.

A thorough survey of the situation in Kisangani revealed two priorities. Firstly, food and non-food assistance will be given to internally displaced in Kisangani. The medical assistance programme run by the Zairian Red Cross will be supported by the ICRC, mainly with drugs and other medical materials. To restore links between internally displaced and their families left behind in the east, the ICRC will set up a Red Cross message service together with the Zairian Red Cross. Contact with family members may also encourage internally displaced to return home. For those who decide to embark on the 700-km journey, way-stations will be set up along the main roads to the east to help them return to their places of origin. The most vulnerable, including children, the elderly, pregnant women and wounded, will be transported by truck as far as road conditions permit. This will be a massive operation, since at present there are at least 25,000 internally displaced in the Kisangani area who wish to return home.

Secondly, access to detainees, including large numbers of people arrested following the fall of Kisangani, has become an utmost priority. Although earlier this year the ICRC was given a general authorisation to visit detainees in Alliance-held areas, the visits have not materialised so far.

The subdelegation will closely coordinate with other humanitarian organisations regarding future relief and tracing activities on behalf of the refugees currently in Ubundu, 100 km south of Kisangani. So far, no humanitarian organization has been granted access to Ubundu.

 Surveys in Uvira and Fizi  

In recent weeks the ICRC carried out a number of surveys in the areas of Uvira and Fizi (some 120 km south of Uvira). Delegates noted widespread pillaging of fields and settlements by refugees and internally displaced, who are struggling to return to their places of origin after having spent several months wandering in the forests. Both internally displaced and refugees are complete ly dependent on the local population, which itself has to make do with the bare minimum.

The ICRC is proposing a plan of action aimed at boosting the local economy, giving internally displaced people a fresh start in their villages of origin, and preventing pillaging by refugees emerging from the forest. Under this plan, way-stations sufficient for some 30,000 beneficiaries will be set up in co-operation with the Zairian Red Cross on the route from Lulunge (South Kivu) to Fizi and Uvira. Furthermore, " returnee packages " of food and non-food assistance, including agricultural tools, will be distributed to internally displaced returning home.

 Preparing an operational base in Brazzaville (Congo) and Ndola (Zambia)  

From Kinshasa staff has been deployed to the capital of Congo to prepare an operational basis should Kinshasa be evacuated. For the time being there are still five expatriates in Kinshasa. The presence of an increasing number of war-wounded arriving from the front line was noted. The ICRC provided health structures caring for the wounded with drugs and other medical supplies.

Likewise, ICRC expatriates continue to work in Lubumbashi, spending the night in Ndola, which lies across the border in Zambia and is only 15 minutes away by plane.

 Coordination within the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement  

With the prevailing situation of conflict and the growing general insecurity spreading throughout the country, the general direction and leadership of the actions of the Movement will be under the direct responsibility of the ICRC.