Kinshasa – The United Nations announced Monday it was suspending humanitarian flights across much of conflict-torn eastern Democratic Republic Congo (DRC) after one of its helicopters came under attack.
Unidentified militants fired on a UN helicopter “10 minutes” from the trade hub of Goma in North Kivu province on Friday, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
The 10 passengers and three crew members on board were unharmed, but the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) decided to temporarily suspend humanitarian flights in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri province.
WFP manages the UN Humanitarian Air Service, which provides passenger and cargo transport during crises.
“We are deeply concerned about the safety of air operations and the humanitarian actors who depend on these flights to reach the most vulnerable groups of the population,” said OCHA humanitarian coordinator Bruno Lemarquis.
Le Coordonnateur humanitaire @UN_Lemarquis condamne l’attaque sur l’hélicoptère de @WFP_UNHAS et appelle les parties au conflit au respect du droit humanitaire international et à épargner les humanitaires pour permettre l’accès aux personnes affectées.
— OCHA DRC (@UNOCHA_DRC) February 27, 2023
TWEET TRANSLATION: The Humanitarian Coordinator @UN_Lemarquis condemns the attack on the helicopter of @WFP_UNHAS and calls on the parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and to spare humanitarian workers to allow access to the affected people.
Eastern DRC is plagued by dozens of militias, many a legacy of devastating regional wars that flared at the turn of the 21st century.
One rebel group, the M23, has seized swathes of territory in North Kivu since late 2021 and is edging closer to Goma, a city of over one million people on the border with Rwanda.
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the advance of M23 rebels.
The DRC accuses its smaller neighbour Rwanda of backing the group, a charge the United States, several other western countries, as well as independent UN experts, agree with.
Rwanda denies the accusation.
Decades of conflict has made eastern Congo one of the world’s most grave and intractable humanitarian crises.
Some 5.7 million people have been displaced inside the central African country, according to OCHA, and over 26 million suffer from food insecurity.
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