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Congo's Humanitarian Crisis Worsens

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Congo, has for years, been in a continuous state of turmoil and now an already bad humanitarian crisis has worsened. It's in the eastern part of this vast nation, the Democratic Republic of Congo has not been able to get control over that area. Their rival arm factions are competing for territory, and now clashes have erupted between government troops and forces loyal to a renegade general. Ethnic Lehi(ph) is a Tutsi fighting against the rival Hutu militia with ties to the 1994 genocide in their home-country, neighboring Rwanda.

Joining us now from Goma, a city in eastern Congo, is NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. Hello.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: A really complicated situation, exactly what is the current military situation there?

QUIST-ARCTON: That's a big question mark. For government, in the past few days, has said that it's tired of waiting for the dissident general, Laurent Nkunda -as you said he's a Tutsi - to lay down his arms.

He says he's not prepared to disarm until the government troops have disarmed a rival militia made up of Hutus who come from across the border in Rwanda. He says they are threatening his Congolese Tutsi community, and until they're disarmed, he won't disarm.

The government says we've waited long enough, so now a military push; we're going to use all our force. So everybody is waiting to see what happens.

MONTAGNE: And what does this mean for the civilians? When you talk about a humanitarian crisis, how does this worsens that?

QUIST-ARCTON: It means that tens of thousands of civilians are again on the move whenever they hear gunfire…

(Soundbite of gunfire)

QUIST-ARCTON: …between the government and the Nkunda's forces - they take off. So Goma, which is the most beautiful city, it's a city that is surrounded by rolling hills and the great lake, Lake Kivu, just on the outskirts of this town.

There are huge displaced people's camps, full of women and children and people who are constantly on the run, because of this continuing conflict, and they live in pitiful circumstances.

They sometimes have to leave even the displaced people's camps when there is fighting nearby. They come back, and the little they had managed to escape with has been looted by men in military uniform, and, of course, not just the looting of their property, but sexual violence, which is rampant in this area, against women and children by armed militias, the government army, and we're told, civilians.

MONTAGNE: Ofeibea, as briefly as you can, remind us what is the root of this problem.

QUIST-ARCTON: Depends who you speak to. Some people say it's an ethnic conflict. Some say it's a conflict because of Congo's huge riches. This is a country that has diamonds, that has gold, that has (unintelligible), Renee, that you used in your mobile phone.

And over the years, the past decade or so, Congo has lived through back-to-back conflicts. It has drawn in armies from six neighbors because many people say everybody is after Congo's riches, but right here in eastern Congo, right at the moment, it is down to almost an ethnic conflict between this Hutu militia and, of course, the Tutsi who say they are under threat.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton speaking from the city of Goma, Congo.

Read about the long history of Congo's struggles at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Morning Edition
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.