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Press release

Clashes reignite disaster for children in Democratic Republic of Congo

Humanitarian Aid Cut to Tens of Thousands of People in Eastern Part of the Country

LONDON/GENEVA, 4 March 2005 - UNICEF said today that renewed fighting in the eastern DRC has cut vital aid to tens of thousands of civilians who had been earlier displaced by fighting.

Speaking from London, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said that more than two thirds of those affected are children and women.

“These people sought sanctuary with the UN from the fighting,” said Bellamy. “First forced to flee their homes, we’ve now been forced to abandon them because we can’t be sure that our own staff won’t be killed.”

Supply lines to an estimated 54,000 civilians living in camps to which they had fled, and who were relying on aid agencies, and on the protection of UN forces, have been cut by the rise in violence.

The entire corps of international aid agencies working in Ituri withdrew their staff from the sites earlier this week, after the killing in preceding days of nine UN peacekeepers in a militia ambush.

Humanitarian organizations have had to temporarily suspend their relief efforts in critical areas such as health, water and food distribution. In one large camp, a water source maintained by aid agencies had broken down, but aid agencies were not able for several days to safely reach the site.

 “We are extremely worried,” said Massimo Nicoletti Altimari, the head of UNICEF operations in Bunia. “Because of the breakdown of essential humanitarian supply lines, there is a real risk to lives of the displaced. The first to die will be the most vulnerable – young children, the sick, the elderly.”

UNICEF is also concerned about the protection of women and children against sexual violence and the use of children in the armed conflict. Eastern DRC has witnessed some of the most consistent and horrific acts of violence in recent conflicts.

“There appears to be a trend of inter-communal violence spiralling beyond control,” said Bellamy. “We believe that there will be a surge in the numbers of displaced unless we find a way to halt this terrible new phase of fighting now.”

The UN estimates that somewhere between three and five million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998.

* * * *
For further information, please contact:

Gordon Weiss, UNICEF New York, +1 212 326 7426, gweiss@unicef.org
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Geneva, + 41 22 909 5716, dpersonnaz@unicef.org




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