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Update No. 97/01 on ICRC activities in the Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville)

17-06-1997 Operational Update

 ICRC back in Brazzaville  

On 11 June, following days of relentless heavy fighting in the Congolese capital Brazzaville, where humanitarian work became impossible, the ICRC decided to evacuate all of its expatriate staff from the city. Only three days later, on 14 June, a team of two ICRC delegates flew back to the strife-torn city, bringing with them food and medical supplies destined for Brazzaville hospitals. A second flight, carrying more food and medicines, followed on Sunday. On the return journey, a Belgian national injured during the fighting was evacuated to Kinshasa. Further evacuations of expatriates were carried out as the necessity arose. Also on the weekend, volunteers of the Congolese Red Cross used a dugout to take 700 kg of medical material donated by the Belgian Red Cross to southern Brazzaville, from where it was distributed to medical facilities in the area by the Congolese Red Cross.

On 16 June the ICRC team visited the Tangalai hospital in northern Brazzaville where conditions were found to be extremely serious. Hospital staff were working around the clock and medical supplies had been completely exhausted. The hospital was able to reopen its surgical department with the help of supplies provided by the ICRC, which also distributed medical material to two other main hospitals in Brazzaville. The ICRC plans to deliver food and medical supplies to additional health facilities as soon as the security situation permits.

At present there is little indication as to the exact number of people wounded during the fighting. Over the coming days, however, the ICRC hopes to increase its presence in Brazzaville and to start providing assistance to as many victims of the conflict as possible. In the very short term, two of the most important tasks are to collect and bury the dead and to transfer to hospitals wounded people currently remaining at home without treatment.

Throughout the fighting in Brazzaville, two ICRC expatriates remained in Lukolela, a town situated north-east of Brazzaville on the Zaire river and temporary home to some 5,300 Rwandan refugees. After fighting broke out in the capital supply lines to the refugee camp were cut off. On 11 June the ICRC was granted authorization by the authorities in Kinshasa to fly a Twin Otter plane with relief supplies directly to Lukolela. The first rotation, carried out on 12 June, was followed by a second one the day after and three more on the weekend. A total of seven tonnes of food and 500 kg of medicines were flown in.

The ICRC is also planning to provide relief assistance to groups of refugees isolated in various parts of Brazzaville and without any means of support, after the team was approached directly by the groups themselves.

The fate of some 5,000 Rwandan refugees, who have been stranded without food or other assistance in the Bilolo transit centre some 20 km north of Brazzaville, is a further source of concern. There has been no news from the camp since fighting erupted in Brazzaville 13 days ago.