Following in the footsteps of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the head of the U.N. Children’s Fund touched down in Kinshasa today for two days of meetings in the Congolese capital before heading east to spend three days visiting the war-torn region where an estimated 5.4 million people have died over the past decade.
In eastern Congo, UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman will visit Dungu, where hundreds of children have recently been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a brutal rebel group infamous for its tactics of kidnapping children and forcing them to fight or become sex slaves. A statement by UNICEF indicated that Veneman will focus on meeting with children and families impacted by the violence.
Veneman will also visit with families displaced by the fighting in South Kivu, where the notorious FDLR rebels have long preyed on the local communities and have accelerated their attacks in retaliation for a U.N.-back offensive against them that began earlier this year. In particular, Veneman will review current efforts to protect children and women and to make life-saving services accessible.
The timing of the visit by a top ranking U.N. official is especially important in light of the much-discussed appearance in eastern Congo by Secretary Clinton and the subsequent media attention her trip generated, such as this interview published in last Sunday’s New York Times magazine and this op-ed written by Clinton herself in People magazine. (On a side note, if you missed last Sunday’s New York Times magazine, be sure to check it out online as it was chocked full of excellent coverage of stories from around the world backing up Nick Kristof’s assertion that “women’s rights are the cause of our time.”) Hopefully Veneman’s trip will help sustain the focus on Congo so that real change on the ground can occur. We’ll be sure to bring you updates about Veneman’s trip as we get them.
Photo: A young boy rests with his father in a decaying state hospital in Isangi, eastern Congo. (IRIN)