UN official calls for international backing of political process in DR of

Just returned from Bunia, which he described as “now a bit of a ghost town,” Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations, told a press briefing that the “impressive” efforts of the UN peacekeepers – chiefly from Uruguay – had changed the way the international community looks at the DRC. “Suddenly people realize that the horrors that are occurring in the Congo must end,” he said. “That stand that has been taken in Bunia – a small place in a remote part of very large country – was sending a very strong signal way beyond Ituri [province]. It is of critical importance how the international community is now going to follow-up in the coming months.” Mr. Guéhenno said the message he wanted to get across was that the wider international community now has to take a stand in Bunia and more broadly for the DRC and then has to support the political process. “That message also goes beyond Bunia – if there was no national unity if the political process does not move forward then we’ll be in trouble.” Although it was tragic to see a once-vibrant town more or less emptied by violence, the UN Organization Mission (MONUC) force had been “the difference between life and death – the only security the poor people of Bunia have.” Still, their valiant efforts were not enough to stabilize the situation. To that end, the simple announcement of the Security Council’s decision to deploy a multinational emergency force to Bunia had made a difference in the people’s lives there, Mr. Guéhenno said. Earlier Wednesday, he introduced Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s second special report on MONUC, in which the UN chief recommended that the mandate of the Mission be extended for another year, until 30 June 2004, and that its military strength be boosted to 10,800 troops. Mr. Guéhenno also briefed the Council on his recent trip to the region, where he held meetings with the Presidents of the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda to discuss the situation in the DRC. The Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Carolyn McAskie, also briefed the Council on the humanitarian situation in the country. Meanwhile on the ground, the UN has withdrawn its unarmed military observers from the eastern town of Kanyabayonga after they were informed by the local authority of threats against their lives. In Bunia, the situation remained unstable with kidnapping, robbery and raping a daily occurrence. The UN humanitarian agencies have assisted the distribution of food to 10,000 people in Bunia in the past two days. The food package will last 21 days. The number of dead bodies that have been collected by the local Red Cross now stands at 429. Listen to UN Radio report