The war just got closer

By Rebecca Wynn
Many displaced people, like this family, have had to sleep on the streets during the fighting.

The war just got closer. For people in Kiwanja and Rutshuru, the war reignited on Tuesday, crumbling a fragile ceasefire that had held for a little less than a week. And on Friday, there was fighting in Kibati, an area where Oxfam is expanding its emergency response.

We had five staff there when the fighting broke out at 11:30 AM. They were beginning meetings with community members and were starting the digging of latrines. Then it happened. The shelling.

"It was between the volcano and the hill near the camp," said Herman, an Oxfam public health promoter, "about two kilometers away from the camp."

People were lining up to get their food distributions from the World Food Program and they suddenly scattered.

"They wanted to get to their shelters to grab their belongings," said Herman. "They knew they had to flee again."

The team reported that they saw one man in his forties crying. "I fled Kibumba camp and now they are chasing us again," he said. Another was more resigned, "We are used to this," he lamented. And sadly people are. Many people in the camp have fled for the third, fourth, fifth time.

Thousands ran toward Goma town. After a night of hiding with host families and in schools and churches, most have returned to the camp but remain scared and vulnerable. Even before this latest incident, the people in the camp were nervous. I can't even imagine the fear they feel now. The rebels have been pushed back northward, but there are just 700 meters between the positions of the rebels and the Congolese government forces. Oxfam is back there with teams today. These people need our help, but it is far from easy in the current insecure environment.

Last weekend, the UK Foreign Minister David Miliband and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner visited Goma. They came with much diplomatic fanfare and media attention, and they said good things. They called for urgent reinforcement of the UN peacekeeping troops, but they have failed to follow through and effectively protect civilians. Today, the European Union will meet to talk about the situation in the eastern Congo.

The people of Congo are still living on the edge with little protection. They urgently need the European Union to take action. Even before the fighting around Kibati, people were telling us about being attacked by armed groups when collecting firewood or food from the nearby fields.

While European Ministers are closeted in debating chambers today, hundreds of thousands of eastern Congolese will be eking out an existence in the region's squalid camps. They need real action, not another mountain of words. The EU must agree to send additional troops to support the UN in eastern Congo and must push for a ceasefire, so we can get aid to the people that desperately need it.