Indian Army contingent protects civilians, UN assets after volcano erupts near Congolese city

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New Delhi, May 23 (PTI) A contingent of the Indian Army, deployed in Congo as part of a UN peacekeeping mission, protected civilians and assets of the global body after a volcano erupted near Goma city in the central African nation, officials said on Sunday.

Thousands of people fled their homes in Goma after the Mount Nyiragongo volcano erupted for the first time in nearly two decades on Saturday night.

The initiatives by the Indian contingent also facilitated the swift evacuation of civilians and other personnel of the United Nations (UN) following the eruption of the volcano, the officials said.

'Actions by the Indian contingent in the face of imminent danger have facilitated the smooth evacuation and protection of civilians and other UN personnel in Goma,' a senior military official said here.

The Indian Army has a significant presence in Congo as part of the UN peacekeeping mission headquartered in the eastern town of Goma and bordering Rwanda. The brigade headquarters of the Indian contingent is located adjacent to the Goma airfield.

As a precautionary measure, contingents of various countries were told to be on alert by the UN's internal security system, observing that evacuation will not be required, the officials said.

However, a majority of the teams, including aviation contingents, evacuated immediately, they added.

The officials said the Indian brigade headquarters held on to its ground in a calculated and calm manner, thinned out 70 per cent of the strength of the camp and sent some of the personnel to the Himbi company operating base (COB) for safety.

They said a minimum strength continued to hold on to the camp, ensuring that there was no threat to UN and national assets as also providing security to the empty aviation base and the aviation fuel stored there.

'An observation point is also established that is giving real-time updates of the lava flow to the brigade headquarters, enabling it to pass correct information to the UN and, hence, creating a semblance of orderliness in the civilian evacuation,' one of the officials said.

He said it was ascertained that the lava flow has considerably slowed down now.

The broad mandate of the United Nations Organisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) is to ensure the protection of civilians, support the strengthening of public institutions and major governance and security reforms. PTI MPB RC

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