15 December 2006 The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), United Nations officials and aid agencies have renewed an appeal for the remaining $19 million needed to help fund next year's effort to rid the country of deadly landmines left over from the bloody six-year civil war, which kill innocent people and prevent whole areas of land from being developed.
"Mines are cheap and easy to deploy, but remain in the ground for decades after a conflict. They hit indiscriminately on innocent people, leaving many maimed for life," said Harouna Ouedrogo, the head of the UN's Mine Action Coordination Centre in the DRC at a press conference yesterday to launch the appeal.
"Even the mere perception of a mine in certain areas will mean that fields and whole areas throughout the DRC remain out of bounds for economic activity," he added. The appeal for the extra funds was made on the anniversary of the worldwide treaty to ban anti-personnel mines, universally known as the Ottawa treaty, which was started in 1997.
DRC has "quite a significant landmine problem," with the provinces of Equateur, Orientale, Katanga and both North and South Kivu the worst affected, the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) said in a press release.
However, $19 million in funding still remains to be found for the 2007 strategy for tackling unexploded ordnance, which includes mine clearing, sensitisation and victim assistance, and which was formulated by the UN 'Fight Against Landmines' service, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
The fight against landmines worldwide encompasses five main elements: marking and clearing of dangerous mine areas; mine awareness education; victim assistance; destruction of mine stocks; and advocating the adoption of international legislation on mines and explosive ordnance.
The DRC, as a signatory to the Ottawa treaty in 2001, has an obligation to fulfil all five elements and Ronda Kaswenge, a mine expert for the Government, said that there was a "real will" among the authorities to tackle this nationwide menace.
"The DRC ratified this treaty in November 2002, and even during the political transition a lot has been accomplished, with the destruction of mine stocks... We have drawn up a plan of action, but we need financing, and the DRC cannot tackle this problem on its own," she concluded.
Earlier this year, the massive but impoverished African nation held landmark elections as it moves to rebuild after a disastrous six-year civil war that cost 4 million lives through fighting and attendant hunger and disease, widely considered the most lethal conflict in the world since World War II. Factional clashes have remained a problem since the end of the war, especially in the east.
Separately, MONUC also reported that the last three remaining militia groups in the eastern province of Ituri have agreed to join the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, which will affect some 8,000 ex-combatants.
Following the example of the militia groups Cobra Matata and the Mouvement Révolutionnaire Congolais, the Front des Nationalistes Intégrationistes yesterday signed a general agreement with the Congolese army, UNDP and MONUC.
Negotiations between Congolese authorities and the militia groups were facilitated and witnessed by MONUC, and an agreement is now in its implementation phase, the Mission said.