UN chief visits DR Congo’s restive Ebola-hit east

GOMA: UN chief Antonio Guterres arrived Saturday in the troubled east of DR Congo, expressing “solidarity” with a region ravaged by violence and an Ebola epidemic.

The secretary-general started his three-day tour of Africa’s largest country in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, which is trying to roll back a major epidemic of Ebola that has claimed more than 2,000 lives since August last year.

He was received by Leila Zerrougui, his special representative in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The two did not shake hands in line with protocols aimed at curbing the spread of the highly infectious and potentially fatal disease.

Guterres said he had come to express his support “with the armed forces of DRC in the fight against terrorism” which represents “a threat not only for the Congo but the whole of Africa.”

The UN peacekeeping mission in the country known by its French acronym MONUSCO comprises some 16,000 troops and has an annual budget of over $1 billion.

A total of 130 militias and armed groups roam the North and South Kivu provinces of DRC, a vast country the size of western continental Europe.

Guterres is due to visit a center for demobilized former militia fighters in Goma.

According to the Group of Experts on Congo from New York University and Human Rights Watch, armed groups killed 1,900 civilians and kidnapped more than 3,300 people between June 2017 and June 2019 in the region.

Ebola toll rising

The demobilization of militias is a priority for MONUSCO, which has been present in DRC since 1999.

On Sunday, Guterres will visit Beni, one of the epicenters of the latest Ebola epidemic, about 350 kilometers (220 miles) north of Goma.

DR Congo health officials said late Thursday that there have been “2,006 deaths (1,901 confirmed and 105 probable)” since August 2018, adding that 902 people had been cured.

It is the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014 and 2016.

Containment efforts have been hindered by conflict in eastern DRC as well as attacks on health workers tackling Ebola within affected communities.

Guterres will visit the remote area of Mangina in the bush outside Beni, where the epidemic first broke out at the end of July 2018.

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