KITCHANGA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley was moved to tears on Thursday after visiting a nearly decade-old camp for Congolese displaced by violence in the country’s east, and insisted there has to be a way to hold “safe and fair elections.”
Haley, the most senior member of President Donald Trump’s administration to visit Democratic Republic of Congo, traveled by helicopter to Mungote camp in Kitchanga, home to some 15,000 displaced people.
Dozens of excited children waved as Haley left on a U.N. peace-keeping helicopter to return to the provincial capital of Goma. She was visibly upset.
“The reason I got emotional today was the hundred-plus kids that were chasing our cars and seeing us off,” Haley told reporters after the visit.
“All I kept thinking was, what’s going to happen to them? The sad reality, as it looks now, is that they are going to end up just like their parents.”
A single mother named Angelique told Haley she had been raped twice. “It’s hard for her when she sits in the kitchen with her seven children because they watched her getting raped,” Haley said as she recounted what Angelique told her.
“She doesn’t know what to say to them,” Haley said.
“No one should live like this. We can’t turn a blind eye to all of this,” Haley said.
Congo is the final stop on Haley’s week-long Africa visit, which has also taken her to Ethiopia and South Sudan, where she met with President Salva Kiir.
On Friday she is due to meet with Congolese President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power since 2001 when he took over from his father.
Congo has never had a peaceful transition of power, and Kabila refused to step down when his second elected term ended in December, fueling insecurity in a country where millions died in conflicts between 1996-2003, most from hunger and disease.
Under an accord struck on Dec. 31 between Kabila’s representatives and opposition leaders, Kabila is barred from trying to change the constitution to stand for a third term.
“We have to find a way to have a peaceful situation,” Haley said. “We have to find a way for them to have safe and fair elections, so we that we can get some leaders that know how to handle this situation and get these armed groups to stop.”
The Congolese electoral commission said earlier this month that an election to replace Kabila cannot take place before April 2019, a delay that the opposition said would cause an impatient population to “take matters into its own hands.”
The largest U.N. peace-keeping mission is deployed in Congo, costing more than $1 billion annually. Haley is reviewing all operations in a bid to cut costs, as the United States is the largest contributor, paying 28 percent of the budget.
The 193-member U.N. General Assembly agreed in June to a $7.3 billion peace-keeping budget, a cut of some $600 Million. The Congo operation has to cut $93 million.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that any further budget cuts could harm the U.N. mission in Congo.
“The state is still absent from many parts of the country and all too often preys on the citizens it is meant to protect,” Guterres wrote in a report to the 15-member Security Council last month
Peace-keepers kept watch while Haley was at Mungote camp in Kitchanga, where she also visited a small bakery started by 50 women.
“They’re making a profit and they just bought a sheep with the profits that they made,” she said. “So it’s inspiring to see they’re not just sitting here complaining, they’re trying to make the best of the life that they have.”
Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Leslie Adler