With a long-running insurgency, several hostile rebel groups, widespread hunger and disease, and over a million citizens displaced by fighting, the eastern provinces on the Democratic Republic of the Congo rank high on every list of the world's troubled regions.
This was brought home again last week when one of the largest insurgent groups renewed its offensive in North Kivu Province. Fighters loyal to Laurent Nkunda battled Congolese government troops and United Nations peacekeepers for 4 days before declaring a ceasefire. An on-again, off-again war that has dragged on for years appeared to be on hold yet again, at least temporarily.
North Kivu has been racked by violence despite the official end of Congo's regional war in 2003 and subsequent peace deals to halt local fighting. Nkunda's forces say they are defending ethnic Tutsis against ethnic Hutu fighters they claim are collaborating with Congo's army. Congo's government denies this and accuses neighboring Rwanda of backing Nkunda.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame says the fighting is an internal Congolese affair. Both countries have also accused each other's armies of crossing the border during recent clashes. Add the innocent civilians killed or injured in the crossfire, others subjected to rape and other violent crime perpetrated by soldiers on all sides, and thousands more driven from their homes and it is a confused, ugly picture.
The United States is deeply concerned about the worsening humanitarian crisis in the region and calls on all parties to respect their commitments to January's Goma peace agreement and the November 2007 Nairobi Communiqué, and use the ceasefire to find a lasting peace. The first step is to renounce the use of arms to settle their differences. All countries in the Great Lakes region must work together to enhance stability and respect each other's sovereignty.