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Democratic Republic of the Congo: Visits to detainees and family news

26-11-1998 News Release 98/47

From the outset of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, ICRC delegates in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi have focused most of their efforts on obtaining access to and visiting civilians and combatants detained in connection with the events.

With government authorization, the ICRC is currently conducting regular visits to over 3,500 people deprived of their freedom, both in the capital and in Katanga province, and assessing their conditions of detention. On the basis of its findings, it is helping the prison authorities to fulfil their responsibilities, which include providing the detainees with medicines, drinking water, food and other vital necessities.

When visiting detainees, ICRC delegates offer them the possibility of contacting their families. The Kinshasa delegation has already distributed 305 of the 562 Red Cross messages gathered from military detainees in Katanga and collected over 180 replies from families living in the capital. These messages are greeted with such joy that the those who distribute them are constantly reminded of how important their work is. Day after day, they roam the streets of the capital in search of people who, fearing the worst for their relatives, are far from imagining that they might receive a message from them.

In Kivu province, where visits to people held in connection with the conflict have just begun, ICRC delegates have been providing the main hospitals in Goma, Bukavu and Uvira with medicines since August 1998. As many smaller medical facilities have closed down, these hospitals have more and more work to do and are treating a large number of war wounded. Under programmes set up by the ICRC and the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to assist the most vulnerable groups, food and vital necessities are being distributed to some 20,000 conflict victims. The beneficiaries, who include many displaced persons, are mainly children, widows and the elderly.