January 17, 2000

MSF Team Attacked; Population Virtually Inaccessible

Amsterdam/New York, January 18, 2000 — Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is deeply concerned about the rapidly worsening humanitarian situation in the Ituri district in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Already embroiled in the conflict between the government and the rebel troops, the situation in the Ituri district has been further exacerbated by recent acts of violence between the Hema and the Lendu tribes. Due to growing insecurity, many victims cannot be reached by MSF.

The conflict in the district has cost the lives of thousands and caused over one hundred and fifty thousand people to flee the area en masse. Many villages have been razed to the ground; the fields that were used for crop cultivation are totally deserted. The conflict has led to the collapse of the already fragile healthcare system. In the past six months the area has been ravaged by various epidemics including measles, the plague, and cholera. Recently, MSF ascertained that 15% of the displaced children are malnourished. International attention is fixed on the frontline hostilities between government and rebel troops, but the most serious humanitarian crisis is unfolding behind the frontline in the Ituri district, where the authorities have been unsuccessful in guaranteeing the safety of the civilian population.

Due to the growing insecurity, Doctors Without Borders is experiencing ever-increasing difficulty in reaching the people. The few aid organizations that are active in the east of Congo are no longer regarded as neutral by parts of the population. Last Friday, an MSF team was attacked at a location 25 kilometers north of Bunia. The team, comprising of a Congolese driver and a nurse, a Canadian doctor, and a Dutch aid worker, was delivering medicines to remote health posts in the hills. Over 50 people blocked the road and attacked the car in which the team was sitting. The assailants threw rocks and struck the car with iron rods. The team barely managed to escape. No one was wounded.

On January 24, the UN Security Council in New York will discuss the deteriorating situation in the DRC. Doctors Without Borders is calling on the participants at this meeting to pay attention to the areas in which the humanitarian crisis is at its most serious.

MSF provides aid in the northeast of DRC to both the Hema and the Lendu tribes. At this moment the team is setting up a cholera treatment center in Bunia. MSF has 15 international aid workers in DRC. Together with 200 national helpers they support the healthcare facilities and train medical staff.