UN creates buffer zone in east, but regional administrator objects

The UN announced on Tuesday that it was creating a buffer zone in the province of North Kivu in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The 10-km buffer zone will be located between the towns of Kanyabayonga and Lubero.

"Two hundred blue helmets from the South African contingent will temporarily protect the buffer zone to permit the humanitarian community to reach thousands of displaced civilians in the area," M'hand Ladjouzi, the head of the North Kivu office of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, said.

In the last two weeks, Congolese army units have battled each other in the area, causing more than 100,000 people to flee their homes, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Aid workers have been unable to gain access to the area.

MONUC has said that the dissidents were mainly Congolese Tutsis, who had previously been members of the rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Goma). The rebel troops took control of Kanyabayonga last week and this week took the nearby towns of Kayna and Kirumba.

The UN-buffer zone aims to keep the dissident army unit separate from the rest of the army. Any attempt to cross the zone will be countered immediately, MONUC said.

However, the governor of North Kivu, Eugène Serufuli, said the zone was not the answer.

"It separates belligerents who are members of the same army," Serufuli told IRIN. "Instead, we need to search for ways of speeding up their integration."

Serufuli met with dissident army leaders in Kanyabayonga, along with Gen Gabriel Amisi, the new army commander of the DRC's 8th Military Region. The dissident leaders agreed to travel the 150 km south to the provincial capital, Goma, with Amisi and Serufuli, where they met on Tuesday with a delegation of government ministers and parliamentarians who came from the capital, Kinshasa.

They met the special representative to the UN Secretary-General, William Swing, who was also in Goma on Tuesday heading a mission of international diplomats known as the Comité international d'accompagnement de la transition. The committee was established to accompany the DRC's two-year transitional government. Elections are due to be held in June 2005.

OCHA's head of public information, Rachelle Scott, said that once the buffer zone was in place, facilities would be set up at Kayna, 20 km northeast of Kanyabayonga, to provide aid to the displaced population.