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Democratic Republic of the Congo: Concern over the fate of civilians in North Kivu

05-12-2007 News Release 07/130

Geneva (ICRC) – With violent clashes between government troops and the armed opposition led by Laurent Nkunda having escalated since 1 December, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is increasingly concerned over the fate of civilians caught up in the fighting and once again forced to flee.

The ICRC therefore reminds the parties to the conflict of their obligation to comply with the provisions of international humanitarian law.

The violence appears to be concentrated in parts of Rutshuru and Masisi territories, in the province of North Kivu. " The security of civilians trapped by the fighting is currently our main priority, " said Max Hadorn, head of the ICRC's delegation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The immediate consequence of the violence has been the mass exodus of civilians seeking refuge in safer areas. Some are trying to reach camps for displaced persons near Goma while others are heading for the southern part of Lubero territory. There is fear that many will be unable to meet their basic needs.

The ICRC reminds the warring parties of their obligation under humanitarian law to spare the lives and physical integrity of civilians, the wounded and persons captured in connection with the fighting. This means that all those who are not or are no longer taking part in the hostilities must be protected.

Women in particular are due special protection against rape and all other forms of indecent assault. Children are entitled to special consideration and protection; they cannot be recruited into any armed forces or allowed to take part in the fighting.

The warring parties have the further obligation to spare all objects essential to the survival of the civilian population, such as food, livestock and drinking-water installations. Medical personnel, medical facilities, ambulances and other medical means of transport must be spared and protected at all times.

Moreover, the parties must authorize and facilitate the safe and rapid passage of exclusively humanitarian, impartial and non-discriminatory relief for the civilian population and spare and protect humanitarian aid workers and relief supplies in all circumstances.

For further information, please contact:
  Olga Miltcheva, ICRC Goma, tel : ++243 81 036 68 12
  Wolde-Gabriel Saugeron, ICRC Kinshasa, tel : ++243 81 700 85 36
  Anna Schaaf, ICRC Geneva, tel : ++41 22 79 217 32 17