UN chief visits Congo Ebola region, pledging support

BENI, Congo (AP) — The United Nations secretary general visited Congo's eastern city of Beni on Sunday, pledging solidarity as the region faces an Ebola outbreak that has killed nearly 2,000 people in a year and ongoing insecurity that has residents skeptical of outside help.

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"I could not go to the DRC (Congo) without coming to meet the brave inhabitants of this beautiful territory," U.N. chief Antonio Guterres said. "There are major concerns about health. There is measles, malaria, cholera and now the terrible drama of Ebola. We are fully on the side of the Congolese people to try to meet all these challenges."

Guterres also pledged the U.N. peacekeeping forces' support with the armed forces of Congo in the fight against extremism "that is threatening not only Congo but Africa and the world."

He is on a three-day trip to Congo. He stopped in Goma earlier and on Monday will meet with Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi.

"It is important for the people of Beni to know that we have heard their cries of distress. The United Nations as a whole is committed to supporting the Congolese authorities, local communities and civil society actors in the fight against insecurity," he said while in Beni, adding that he will discuss these issues when he visits Kinshasa on Monday.

Guterres' trip comes as Ebola cases are about the topple 3,000 along with nearly 2,000 deaths in eastern Congo since the outbreak was declared a year ago. Health authorities have faced major challenges trying to stem the spread of the disease amid insecurity and mistrust from communities.

Traumatized by Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces rebels since October 2014, residents of Beni say they do not trust the U.N. peacekeepers, who they say have done little to protect them from rebel attacks. The region is home to numerous rebel groups vying for control of the mineral-rich land.

"Imagine rebels attacking in the evening but we try to call MONUSCO but they arrive in the morning with cameras," said Nzanu Nzoli a former resident of the town of Eringeti who traveled to Beni to flee the attacks. "The visit of Antonio Guterres will not change the current state of our situation in Beni because before him we had already received the promises of the Congolese government and the U.N. ... But it will soon be five years without action. ... Nothing will change."

Others in the area said a visit from the head of the U.N. could boost military operations.

"I believe that with his visit ... Antonio Guterres will learn about the current situation of the rebels, and the evolution of Ebola. Often he receives reports but he will feel the situation, so I hope for a favorable outcome," said Kambale Mundoleko, an Ebola survivor near Beni in Mangina who lost her entire family.

Upon his arrival in Mangina, Guterres visited an Ebola treatment center and also witnessed the unloading of four Ebola patients.