Crisis in Congo – Church leaders say DRC on brink of war

Congolese women – Caritas Australia

Media Release, 23 November, 2012

Fear and insecurity has sent tens of thousands of innocent civilians into hiding and flight as the M23 Rebels now occupy Goma, the main city in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The military spokesperson of the M23 has now publically declared that the rebels are prepared to march onwards to take over the country’s capital, Kinshasa should the people “invite” them.

Caritas is extremely concerned that water and electricity supplies have been cut off; accentuating the panic and uncertainty amongst the city of one million people.

Church leaders in eastern DRC say that without urgent international attention, the region could once again descend into full blown war. The last time Goma was taken, in 1998, the rebels moved on to Bukavu.

Lulu Mitshabu, Caritas Australia Africa Program Coordinator, reported that “our long-term partner, Caritas Goma, estimates that more than 200,000 people have been displaced and will need immediate assistance to survive. More than 20,000 people spent the first night of the occupation on the roadside, without shelter, our Caritas colleagues say. Hundreds of local people are taking refuge in Church buildings, where they are receiving water, food and shelter. However, they are likely to need a great deal more support over the coming days.”

Fr Oswald Musoni, Director of Caritas Goma, is assessing the situation on the ground and gauging the humanitarian response and international support required. “Caritas Goma has organised teams to assess needs in the camps housing displaced persons, churches and schools,” he said.
“Since Tuesday evening, the shooting stopped in the town of Goma and its surroundings. The presence of M23 has been noticed in all strategic corners and there was looting of shops by the FARDC.” Fr Oswald further explained that he “hopes that international NGOs who left Goma will be back as soon as it is safe for them to evaluate and to plan for collaborative responses where possible.”

“The situation remains volatile and the humanitarian response required is critical, not only for Goma and the North Kivu province, but for many communities throughout the DRC who have only ever known tumultuous violence,” said Ms Mitshabu.

Caritas Australia has been working on the ground in the DRC for many years helping with emergency response and long-term development projects, primarily addressing issues related to conflict and violence.

They have committed an initial AU$100,000 to provide food and non-food items to at least 25,000 people fleeing to safety from conflict in the towns of Goma, Mugunga and Sake.

The African bishops said, “The time is no longer for war or conquest, but rather to promote cooperation between peoples and that the territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of Congo must be protected and respected by all.” Read the Bishops of Africa full statement at www.caritas.org.au/media

To support Caritas’ Emergency Response, please donate to the Caritas Australia Congo Appeal at www.caritas.org.au/donate

Media enquiries: Helen Forde, 0408 009 688 or helenf@caritas.org.au