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Update No. 97/03 on ICRC activities in Congo-Brazzaville

28-10-1997 Operational Update

 General situation  

Following more than 4 months of conflict, former President Sassou Nguesso and his troops currently appear to be in control of the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville). In addition to Brazzaville, the southern strongholds of his principal rival, President Pascal Lissouba, namely the main towns and centres of Dolisie, Loudima and Pointe Noire seem to be in control of Nguesso's cobra militias after heavy fighting.

In humanitarian terms, the centre of Brazzaville, where most of the fighting of the last months took place, has been almost completely destroyed and nearly all civilians have been forced to flee to the countryside north and south of the city, or to cross the Congo river towards Kinshasa. It is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 internally displaced people from Brazzaville are currently living in rural areas, with inadequate shelter and in under extremely difficult health and sanitation conditions. Although the security situation in the city remains highly volatile and looting continues, some internally displaced, in particular those who took refuge in the north of the country, have started to move back to whatever is left of their homes. In contrast, internally displaced who fled to the south of the country, which had previously been controlled by President Lissouba, are hesitant to move back to Brazzaville, as they fear reprisals.

 The ICRC's response  

Sinc e the conflict in Brazzaville started on 5 June 1997, ICRC teams and Congolese Red Cross volunteers have been working to alleviate the plight of its victims. The most urgent needs of the population were identified and humanitarian aid was provided in the form of drugs and surgical material for hospitals treating war-wounded. The most seriously wounded were evacuated for surgical treatment to hospitals inside the Republic and in Kinshasa. ICRC teams also buried the dead, provided water purification equipment and materials needed to dig wells and build latrines, and distributed food and non-food assistance, including shelter materials, to the most needy.

For three weeks the ICRC expatriates were not able reach Brazzaville anymore and its operations were carried out by its Congolese national staff and the Congolese Red Cross Society (CRCS). However, on 22 and 23 October it was able to send 12 additional delegates to Brazzaville and Pointe Noire (where one delegate remained throughout the crisis) with medical emergency material for the victims of the war. Apart from distributing medical materials, ICRC teams have reestablished contact with the local authorities and are currently drawing up a plan of action in order to adjust and fine-tune ongoing humanitarian programmes in accordance with the new humanitarian situation.

The ICRC is already evaluating air, land and water access routes in order to maximise the efficiency of its logistical structure, which will have to be able to bring in large quantities of medical and other relief goods. To this end, delegates have been sent to neighbouring Gabon and the Angolan enclave of Cabinda in order to evaluate all possibilities for optimizing the transport of people and material to the Republic of Congo.

In a first phase, and to respond to the most urgent needs, several air rotations from Lobito, Angola, and Nairobi, Kenya, are planned before the end of this month, so as to bring in additional medical supplies, food and non-food relief goods as well as logistical material such as vehicles.

 Health activities  

The ICRC, together with its colleagues from the CRCS, continues the macabre task of evacuating and burying dead bodies from the streets of the capital and Pointe Noire. To date, more than 200 bodies have been evacuated and buried in Brazzaville alone.

A total of 2,700 kg of drugs and medical instruments, which has just been flown in by ICRC delegates, will be delivered to medical structures in Gamboma in the north, the capital Brazzaville, and Pointe Noire in the south. In addition, surgical instruments will be distributed to three hospitals in the capital.

Initially the medical plan of action will focus on two axes. The first task is to enable approximately 30 health centres in the seven districts of the capital to resume their function through targeted deliveries of assistance. The second priority is to contribute to the rehabilitation of the University Hospital by helping to reorganize the pharmacy and other units and by supplying surgical equipment and instruments.

 The displaced population  

The internally displaced civilian population remains the main preoccupation of the ICRC. Their situation is particularly difficult owing to the ongoing rainy season. To date, the ICRC has distributed shelter material, non-food items and medical assistance to some 20,000 displaced persons located north and south of Brazzaville and on the island of Mbamu in the Congo river. Other assistance to internally displaced has already been provided by the CRCS with the support of the ICRC. It includes drinking water, the building of showers and the digging of wells and latrines.

A new evaluation of the humanitarian situation by ICRC delegates in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire, aims to determine the best ways and means to further assist internally displaced and people about to return to their homes, many of whom have been partly or completely looted or destroyed.

 Protection  

The ICRC has asked the new authorities to allow its delegates to visit, according to ICRC criteria, all persons detained in relation to the conflict, including foreigners who are allegedly detained in Pointe Noire and have been seen by the press.

 Personnel  

There are currently 18 expatriates engaged in ICRC operations in the Republic of Congo- Brazzaville, including six persons seconded by the National Societies of Great Britain, Canada and Switzerland. Of these 18, 13 are currently working in the Republic of Congo- Brazzaville, two in support functions in Gabon and three in Kinshasa.