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Update No. 97/8 on ICRC activities related to the Zairian conflict

14-05-1997 Operational Update

 Assistance to Rwandan refugees arriving in Congo  

On 8 May a reconnaissance flight organized by the Kinshasa delegation located several thousand Rwandan refugees who had crossed the border to Congo. Two ICRC expatriates based in Brazzaville were immediately dispatched to Lukolela (Congo) on Friday 9 May. The next day they travelled by boat to Liranga, situated along the Zaire river roughly 500 km north-east of Brazzaville, bringing with them first-aid material. By Saturday evening, an estimated 4,000 refugees, all in very poor condition, had been counted. The current daily rate of arrival of 400 to 500 is likely to continue, given that a further 20,000 refugees have been reported in the area south of the Zairian town of Mbandaka, who are expected to try and enter Congo as well.

Owing to logistical constraints, attempts to bring relief supplies to Liranga over the weekend proved to be very difficult. Finally, on 12 May, an ICRC-chartered helicopter was able to fly in two tonnes of desperately needed food (beans and oil). Delegates also provided emergency first-aid to alleviate the suffering as much as possible.

At present the refugees can be reached only by helicopter or boat, as they are located 80 km from the nearest airport or road. The ICRC strongly suggests that a site be established further south along the river, where assistance could be more easily given. Coordination meetings are being held in Brazzaville between the Congolese authorities and humanitarian organizations to allow them to respond efficiently to the refugees'needs.

On 13 May a charter flight from Nairobi delivered 11 tonnes of food and non-food relief, including medical and water and sanitation material, to Brazzaville. As of today, the delegation expects a Twin-Otter plane from the ICRC delegation in Angola to arrive in Brazzaville and to forward the relief goods to Lukolela.

 ICRC office opened in Kananga (Kasai Occidental)  

Following an assessment mission to Kananga, in the province of Kasai Occidental, an ICRC office was opened there on Monday, 12 May. Over the coming days, a staff of three expatriates, together with the Zairian Red Cross, will concentrate on coordinating support for war-wounded evacuated from the frontlines. Authorization has been requested to go to Kikwit in Bandundu Province. Furthermore, delegates are concerned about the condition of thousands of refugees reported to be in the area of Luiza, some 120 kilometres south of Kananga, and hope to gain access to that area very soon.

 Air bridges for internally displaced  

By late last week, a total of 5,243 internally displaced persons had been transported by the ICRC from Kisangani and Kindu to Bukavu, Goma, Isiro, Bunia and Lubumbashi. Airlift operations from Kindu have been completed and expatriate staff has been withdrawn. In Kisangani, the last few groups of internally displaced have passed through the transit site. Remaining ICRC aircraft capacity may be used for the repatriation of Rwandan refugees, in coordination with UNHCR.

 Internally displaced in Kalemie  

An initial census in Kalemie town revealed 5,000 to 6,000 internally displaced persons. More assessments are currently going ahead in the surrounding areas.

First evaluation missions are als o being carried out in Bunia (North Kivu) and Isiro (Haut Zaire) to evaluate needs in these centres. Special attention is being paid to health structures and water and sanitation facilities.

 Ongoing activities in Kivu  

The subdelegations of Goma, Bukavu and Uvira continue their medical (including water and sanitation), tracing, relief and dissemination activities. However, owing to increased insecurity caused by sporadic clashes in the Kivu area, each field trip has to be carefully planned and some activities are occasionally delayed.

 Emergency preparations in Kinshasa  

Together with the Zairian Red Cross and other humanitarian actors an emergency plan for Kinshasa has been worked out. A total of 2,700 Red Cross volunteers, including about 800 specially trained team leaders, can be called upon. First-aid teams, trained to give emergency medical assistance and to evacuate wounded to one of eight reference hospitals, are already on stand-by.

The Zairian Red Cross, with logistical support from the ICRC, has also started food distributions to some 22,000 vulnerable persons, including patients and staff at 18 hospitals and around 17,000 internally displaced. The rations, made available by other humanitarian organizations which still have stocks in Kinshasa, are designed to meet nutritional needs for approximately three weeks. Distributions will be made over three days at 14 points covering 24 districts of Kinshasa.

Every day, the ICRC tracing team in Kinshasa handles more family messages addressed to relatives in other parts of Zaire. By helping to reassure relatives that their loved ones are alive and well, the ICRC's Red Cross message service also eases tension. At the moment, 400 persons a day visit the delegation to write a family message.

 Preparations in Brazzaville and Lubumbashi  

The ICRC delegation in Brazzaville is fully operational and has been reinforced with personnel. It is managing an emergency stock of relief supplies, which can be used in Brazzaville or Kinshasa.

From Lubumbashi, high-level contacts are made with representatives of the Alliance with a view to obtaining authorizations to assist where needed and to gain access to detainees.