UN considers using drones to monitor DR Congo fighting

2012-11-24 09:37
In what would be a major first for its peacekeeping operations, the United Nations said it was considering using drones to monitor the fighting between the military and the M23 rebels.

The UN has expressed shock at the sight of thousands of civilians fleeing a rebel advance in the eastern DR Congo and appealed for access to help those caught up in the violence.

Regional leaders were heading for Kampala meanwhile for a summit today on the latest crisis in the mineral-rich region.

The rebels captured Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, on Tuesday before taking the key town of Sake 20 kilometres to the west the next day, forcing thousands more people to take flight.

A UN source said the rebels appeared to have halted just south of Sake after battles with government forces and an allied local militia.

“I have been shocked by the pictures I have seen of the ordinary women, men and children fleeing the violence in and around Goma,” UN deputy secretary for humanitarian affairs Valerie Amos said in a statement.

The conflict was preventing aid workers from delivering even the most basic aid in already badly hit areas, she added.

Leila Zerrougui, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict, said children were among the innocent casualties in the recent fighting.

“Children have been killed and injured in the crossfire, deliberately targeted and allegedly recruited as soldiers,” she said in a statement. Over the past four days alone, 16 children had been wounded, she said.

They also lived in fear of being forcibly recruited into a militia group – or of being raped, she added.

The UN refugee agency warned that fighting had blocked access to all but one of the 31 camps for displaced people in North Kivu.
“There are bodies lining the road” leading south from Sake, Thierry Goffeau, the head of the Goma chapter of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), told AFP, without giving specific figures.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had counted around 80 wounded in just two Goma hospitals on Wednesday and Thursday.

Red Cross officials expressed their fears for the fate of civilians outside Goma.

“The front line is shifting, and new communities are now directly affected by the conflict,” said Frederic Boyer, head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Goma.

UN figures show some 1.6 million internally displaced people in North and South Kivu, including 285 000 newly displaced between July and September.

DR Congo’s army has proved unable to contain the rebellion since it erupted in April. This week, UN peacekeepers deployed attack helicopters in a vain attempt to halt the rebel advance.

UN peacekeeping spokesperson Kieran Dwyer said the UN was considering using drones to monitor the fighting.

“Of course, we would do this carefully, in full cooperation with the government of the DR Congo,” Dwyer told AFP.