Thursday, October 30, 2008

World Vision evacuates from Eastern Congo

With rebels approaching the city of Goma, World Vision staff fled the city to the Rwandan border. The staff there say the fighting is making a desperate humanitarian situation much worse. They are demanding that fighting stop and to be given safe access to the people in need.

As noted in the World Vision press release, while the workers in Goma made it, another city staff is being sheltered by the UN.

World Vision's Emergency Communications Advisor Michael Arunga reports from the calm but crowded Rwandan border that a group of eight international World Vision staff have arrived there safely after a high-speed drive from Goma tonight. Another dozen or so World Vision Congolese staff have returned to their families in Goma.

"We heard sounds of gunfire and witnessed scenes of panic near World Vision's Goma office, not long after the United Nation's OCHA issued an advisory this morning on the growing insecurity in Goma," Arunga added.

In addition, some 18 World Vision staff in Rutshuru a town about 70 km (44 miles) north of Goma that was overrun by rebels yesterday are currently being sheltered in a local compound of the UN peacekeeping force MONUC, after plans to evacuate them from the town failed yesterday.

Heavy fighting is being reported within about 6 miles of Goma, with small arms fire along one of two main roads leading out of town. Reports say that rebel forces are advancing on Goma and threatening to overwhelm government troops and a 17,000-strong UN force deployed to halt a return to all-out war.

"We were forced to evacuate given the mounting dangers posed to our staff on the ground," explained Dr. Wilfred Mlay, World Vision's Africa vice president, "But we remain very concerned about the humanitarian crisis faced by people in Goma and Rutshuru. We call on the international community to do all it can to ensure their safety, along with an immediate ceasefire that will allow full access to civilians by humanitarian agencies, including World Vision."

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