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Worldworx Travel> Safety> Africa> Congo, Democratic Republic of

Safety Travel Safety: Africa: Congo, Democratic Republic of

Congo, Democratic Republic of: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Capital: Kinshasa
Population: 55,225,478
Currency: Congolese franc (CDF)
Languages: French (official), Lingala (a lingua franca trade language), Kingwana (a dialect of Kiswahili or Swahili), Kikongo, Tshiluba
Religions: Roman Catholic 50%, Protestant 20%, Kimbanguist 10%, Muslim 10%, other syncretic sects and indigenous beliefs 10%
Borders: Angola 2,511 km (of which 225 km is the boundary of Angola's discontiguous Cabinda Province), Burundi 233 km, Central African Republic 1,577 km, Republic of the Congo 2,410 km, Rwanda 217 km, Sudan 628 km, Tanzania 473 km, Uganda 765 km, Zambia 1,930 km

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION ^
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa), located in central Africa, is the third largest country on the continent. The capital is Kinshasa. French is the official language. Years of civil war and corruption have badly damaged the country's infrastructure.

SECURITY AND SAFETY ^
U.S. citizens traveling to and residing in Congo-Kinshasa are urged to exercise caution and maintain security awareness at all times. While the April 2003 signing of peace accords between rebel groups and Congolese authorities has resulted in the formation of a power-sharing government of transition and a reduction of conflict throughout most of the country, Congo- Kinshasa remains unstable. T he United Nations has authorized up to 10,800 military personnel to deploy in Congo. Security is improving in most areas where the U.N. Mission to the DRC (known by its French acronym, MONUC) has deployed. Elsewhere, it is tenuous. Rural areas, especially in the eastern provinces, are highly insecure. Ill-disciplined militiamen continue to operate in the eastern regions of the country and pockets of the north. Armed soldiers and police, while common in urban areas, including Kinshasa, are often poorly trained, irregularly paid and undisciplined. The security forces often act arbitrarily, and may themselves pose a threat to the population instead of protecting them. These forces are often the perpetrators of crimes, mainly armed robberies.

In the past, the previous government imposed curfews with minimal warning. While this practice has largely subsided, travelers should nevertheless check locally to confirm the current curfew status. Ferries to and from Brazzaville do not operate after 6:00 p.m. Travel in the downtown parts of Kinshasa, Kisangani, Lubumbashi and most other major cities is generally safe during daylight hours. The outlying areas are less secure due to the lack of adequate training/supervision of the security forces present and high levels of criminal activity. Travelers should avoid civil disturbances that may occur without warning in all areas, and have the potential to turn violent. There have been episodes of hostility towards U.S. citizens and other expatriates.

Both inside and outside Kinshasa, there can be military roadblocks, especially after dark. Vehicles are often searched for weapons, and travelers are checked for identity papers. Troops regularly seek bribes. If confronted with such a situation, it is suggested that U.S. citizens remain courteous and calm. If detained, report the incident to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa as soon as possible.

Attacks against isolated villages continue sporadically in the Ituri region of Orientale Province, and in North Kivu, South Kivu, and Maniema Provinces, where Rwandan and Burundian rebel groups that have yet to cede control to the authority of the new transitional government continue to mount periodic attacks. The Rwandan rebels include individuals who perpetrated the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Violence in these areas from armed Congolese militiamen is also not precluded. The large number of rebel and government soldiers to be decommissioned as a result of the peace process is another source of potential security concerns.

REGIONAL TERRORISM ^
One of the many extremist rebel factions in the Great Lakes region, the Liberation Army of Rwanda, has committed violent acts against American citizens and interests. This faction was responsible for the March 1999 kidnapping and murder in Uganda of several western tourists, including Americans. In April 2001, six employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross were murdered while working in Congo-Kinshasa, near Bunia in Orientale Province. In May of 2001, irregular Congolese Mai-Mai forces kidnapped more than 20 individuals employed by a Thai logging company in North Kivu Province.

CRIME ^
In Congo-Kinshasa, poor economic conditions continue to foster crime, especially in urban areas. Vehicle thefts, burglaries, and armed robbery occur throughout the country. Carjackings occur in some regions. If confronted by members of the military or security forces, visitors should be wary of permitting soldiers or police officers to enter their vehicles or of getting into the vehicle of anyone purporting to be a security official. It is recommended that in such instances U.S. citizens remain courteous and calm and, if threatened, not resist. All incidents should be reported to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa. Consistency in administering laws and regulations is notably absent. Travelers should note that in cases of theft and robbery, legal recourse is limited. Therefore, valuable items may be safer if kept at home or another secure location. Individuals purporting to be legitimate police authorities have detained and later robbed American citizens in the city of Kinshasa. This type of incident has occurred more frequently during the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES ^
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens are subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Congolese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, and trafficking in illegal drugs are strictly enforced. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines.

Expatriates, including American citizens, can be arrested in both civil and criminal cases. Detainees are generally held until a �fine� or �tax� is paid. Prison conditions are extremely poor, consular access is sporadic and prisoners are seldom allowed private meetings with their attorneys.

MEDICAL FACILITIES ^
In Congo-Kinshasa, medical facilities are limited, and medical supplies are in short supply. Travelers should carry properly labeled prescription drugs and other medications with them.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS ^
Continued seismic activity occurs in the Goma and Lake Kivu area following the January 17, 2002 eruption of Mount Nyiragongo. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS ^
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Congo-Kinshasa is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor/Non-Existent

Inter-city roads are poor and often impassable in the rainy season. When driving in cities, keep windows up and doors locked. At roadblocks or checkpoints, documents should be shown through closed windows. In the event of a traffic incident involving bodily injury to a third party or pedestrian, do not stop to offer assistance under any circumstances. Proceed directly to the nearest police station or gendarmerie to report the incident and request official government intervention. Attempting to provide assistance may further aggravate the incident, resulting in a hostile mob reaction such as stoning.

Presidential and other official motorcades pose serious risks to drivers and pedestrians in Kinshasa. When hearing sirens or seeing security forces announcing the motorcade's approach, drivers should pull off the road as far as possible, and stop your vehicle. Visitors should not take pictures, nor use a cellular telephone, radio or any other communication device while the motorcade is passing. Vehicles should not attempt to move until the entire motorcade has passed by; the security forces will physically indicate when this has occurred. Failure to comply may result in arrest. Drivers should also stop their car when passing a government installation during the raising and lowering of the Congolese flag. This ceremony occurs at roughly 7:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.

Visitors who wish to travel in the mining areas must first obtain government approval.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html.

RIVER TRAVEL ^
Ferry service between Kinshasa and Brazzaville stops running late afternoon, and it may close completely with minimal notice. If ferry service is functioning, a special exit permit from Congo-Kinshasa's Immigration Service and a visa from a Congo-Brazzaville embassy/consulate are required for U.S. citizens to cross the Congo River from Kinshasa to Brazzaville.

Ferry and riverboat service to the Central African Republic is suspended due to rebel control of the Ubangui River.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT ^
As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Congo-Kinshasa by local carriers, nor economic authority to operate such service, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Government of Congo-Kinshasa's civil aviation authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at http://www.intl.faa.gov.

The Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers and has put many Congolese carriers on non-use status for their personnel. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

PROHIBITIONS ON PHOTOGRAPHY ^
Photographing public buildings, military installations, airports and the banks of the Congo River is forbidden. Offenders can expect at a minimum to be arrested, held for at least several hours and fined. Film and cameras may also be confiscated. Due to the threat of harassment and the lack of signs designating sites prohibited for photography, photography is best practiced in private homes and among friends.

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Please also refer to the separate Travel Warning for The Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) and to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

February 9, 2004 | Travel Warning

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