WFP's food aid in DRC halted by attacks

Published on 06 April 2004

Kinshasa/Bukavu WFP appeals for an end to looting and attacks against its offices in the Democratic Republic of Congo, saying that the violence has forced the temporary suspension of its aid operations in many parts of the central African country.


KINSHASA/BUKAVU - The United Nations World Food Programme today appealed for an end to looting and attacks against its offices in the Democratic Republic of Congo, saying that the violence had forced the temporary suspension of its aid operations in many parts of the central African country.

Thousands of Congolese turned on UN offices and bases across the DRC on Thursday after renegade soldiers seized the eastern city of Bukavu on Wednesday. The protesters said they blamed troops of the United Nations Mission in the DRC (MONUC) for failing to stop the rebel takeover.

"We have just been through the worst situation with our staff and offices coming under attack in Kinshasa, Kalemie, Lubumbashi and Kisangani," said Felix Bamezon, WFP Representative and Country Director for the DRC. "We need security to continue our life-saving work."

Bamezon said tens of thousands of angry demonstrators—some armed with wooden clubs and stones—took to the streets of Kinshasa, protesting against the United Nations and surrounded UN headquarters. MONUC spokesman Hamadoun Touré said that two people were shot dead by MONUC soldiers when a mob broke into their logistics base.

"This infuriated the crowd and they tried to pry open the gates to UN headquarters. Police intervened and there was heavy firing, but the mob kept coming back," said Bamezon.

In the eastern town of Kalemie, mobs looted a WFP warehouse containing 1,000 tonnes of food as well as the WFP office. One WFP international staff member there was placed under MONUC protection and was later relocated to the southeastern city of Lubumbashi.

Bamezon said that stone-throwing protesters in Lubumbashi had smashed the windows of an office used by WFP and other UN agencies. He added that in the northeastern city of Kisangani, WFP staff were told to stay at home for their safety on Thursday. A mob burned down the International Committee of the Red Cross office there and smashed shop windows.

In the northwestern city of Mbandaka, the situation was reported tense and all WFP staff were ordered to remain at home.

The last two WFP international staff in Bukavu were taken on Thursday by a MONUC helicopter to the northeastern city of Goma. But 15 DRC nationals who are WFP staff remained in the city—most of them hiding with their families in their homes for a second day.

Ndeley Agbaw, the head of WFP's office in Bukavu, said before his evacuation to Goma that civilians on Wednesday looted two barges loaded with a total of 270 tonnes of food aid. Homes of WFP staff were ransacked. But he added that he managed to visit a nearby WFP warehouse and found that it had not been looted contrary to an earlier report.

WFP usually feeds 150,000 people in South Kivu province with 3,500 tonnes of food a month provided to nutritional centres, to patients in hospitals, for food-for-work and other programmes.

"There was a lot of looting and raping in Bukavu," said Agbaw. "More than 300 people have taken refuge inside the MONUC headquarters. They are being given military rations, but these are running low, so they will need the food from our warehouse."

Fighting in Bukavu forced the closure of WFP's office and the suspension of aid operations from Wednesday (26 May) last week. Some 2,100 people have crossed from Bukavu into the neighbouring Rwandan town of Cyangugu because of the violence; 1,000 people are receiving WFP food at a transit centre. WFP is moving 62 tonnes of food—enough to feed 3,000 people for one month—to Cyangugu from the Rwandan city of Butare.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.

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