GOMA, 9 January 2008 (IRIN) - Four days after the opening ceremony, a major conference aimed at restoring peace and stability in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) Kivu provinces finally got off the ground on 9 January at the University of the Great Lakes in Goma, with the region's humanitarian "catastrophe" topping the agenda.
Photo: Noel E. King/IRIN
One of the millions displaced by the fighting in the eastern DRC
Civil wars that plagued the country between 1996 and 2003 and continuing clashes in North and South Kivu have, according to the minister of social and humanitarian affairs, Jean-Claude Muyambo, led to the deaths of five million people, the internal displacement of six million, a third of them in the Kivus alone, and the rape of half a million women.
There are several parties to the fighting in North Kivu, including the regular army, dissident troops loyal to renegade general Laurent Nkunda, remnants of the Rwandan soldiers and militia that carried out much of the killing in that country's 1994 genocide and a variety of Congolese armed groups collectively known as Mayi Mayi.
Muyambo went on to accuse humanitarian NGOs of failing the affected people of the Kivus. "Many of their activities don't meet our expectations. When we need medical supplies, they bring us food," he said.
"The solution to this problem will arise from the establishment of laws that should define the role of government in humanitarian activity. NGOs should rather be behind the government which knows the needs of its people well," the minister added.
The conference chairman, Apollinaire Malumalu, who also heads the Independent Electoral Commission, remarked that the minister had failed to present the government's humanitarian action plan and called on him to do so before the end of the event.
The start of the government-organised meeting was delayed by logistical problems and rows over exactly who was eligible to attend, with some groups initially boycotting proceedings.
An original list of 300 delegates grew to more than 800, with an additional 500 attending as observers. As a result, the US$2 million budgeted for the conference will not suffice, according to organisers.
"Delegates will receive a per diem of $135 but they haven't got it yet because I think there is a liquidity problem," said a member of the organising committee.
Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga has called on all DRC citizens to contribute the equivalent of a dollar to meet the shortfall.
"It is going to cost a lot of money but peace has a price which we have to pay," National Assembly speaker Vital Kamerhe said.
"The blood of our brothers and our army is priceless," he added.
The conference is due to run until 17 January.