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Congo massacre spotlights risk inherent in relief work



Published: Tue, May 1, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Last Thursday's brutal slaying of six Red Cross workers in the central African nation of Congo should prompt the United Nations to take immediate steps to protect individuals involved in humanitarian work in the world's danger zones.

Indeed, the U.N. Security Council should launch an immediate investigation into the murders of the Swiss nurse, Colombian relief worker and four Congolese and charge those responsible with crimes against humanity.

The six aid workers weren't involved in the long-standing civil war in Congo. They weren't connected to any side in the conflict. They went to the war-torn country to provide medical care and comfort to the masses of people who have fallen victim to the blood-letting. Since 1998, 1 million Congolese have been killed and 2 million more have been displaced. As with any war, the innocent, especially the children and the elderly, are at greatest risk.

Chechnya: Workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross have often gone where no others will venture. Five years ago, six Red Cross nurses in Chechnya were shot to death as they slept in a hospital. Then as now, the easily recognizable Red Cross against a white background was in full display.

In Congo, the six workers were traveling in two marked Red Cross vehicles and mistakenly believed that the international symbol would guarantee them safe passage. Hence, they did not have armed escort. But attackers with guns and machetes not only shot and slashed the six to death, but they set the vehicles on fire. The bodies were discovered in the burned vehicles.

This incident demands more than expressions of sympathy from the U.N. and the government of Congo. What is demanded is protection for all relief workers. If the warring factions refuse to recognize the important work the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations are performing, then perhaps they should be left to their own bloody excesses.

The U.N. should also take note of the fact that the six were killed in Ituri Province, which is under the control of Uganda, a country that has provided arms and other assistance to rebels seeking the overthrow of Congo's president, Laurent Kabila.

Peace accord: Uganda was recently accused by a U.N. special committee of plundering Congo's vast natural resources. The report has infuriated Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who withdrew Sunday from a peace accord designed to end Congo's civil war.

The United Nations should determine whether the murder of the six Red Cross workers was an act of defiance by Museveni.




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