Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fighting on Two Fronts in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo Uproots Over 150,000, Says UN

Fighting on two fronts in eastern DR Congo uproots over 150,000 – UN

14 October 2008 – More than 150,000 people have been driven from their homes in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) over the past two months by fighting on two fronts, with dissident Congolese and Ugandan rebels, the United Nations refugee agency reported today, announcing efforts to boost relief aid.

Over 50,000 people have been forced to flee in the Ituri region due to intense fighting between the Congolese army and Uganda’s rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) which has caused heavy loss of life since last month.

“The rebels have caused widespread destruction of houses and public buildings,” UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva. “Local authorities in the area say that the bodies of some 100 civilians were reportedly dumped in a river, while 80 children are reported missing. Parents fear their offspring have been forcefully recruited by the LRA.”

People have found shelter with relatives and friends, as well as in churches and public schools and a UNHCR team in the Dungu region reports that the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are in dire need of basic humanitarian assistance with the displacement placing a huge strain on host families.

“In response to the unfolding crisis, we are gearing up to send additional emergency staff to beef up UNHCR’s presence in the Ituri region and to help meet the basic needs for shelter and water,” Mr. Redmond said. “Our teams will be also bringing in blankets, high energy biscuits and hygiene items.”

Access to IDPs and aid distribution is hampered by insecurity and lack of roads. A partial assessment of the displacement has been conducted from helicopters provided by the UN peace-keeping mission in the DRC, known by its French acronym as MONUC, and by aid workers using trailbikes to reach IDPs in areas outside of the town of Dungu.

Meanwhile, fresh fighting in the neighbouring province of North Kivu between Government forces and the rebel National Congress for People's Defence (CNDP) led by Laurent Nkunda has displaced 100,000 people since hostilities erupted at the end of August, according to latest assessments.

In recent weeks UN soldiers have intervened several times to prevent CNDP advances. Yesterday a MONUC operational base in the Tongo and Nyanzale region was caught in the crossfire between the two sides despite their agreement on a separation of forces. The Mission reported that the army had still not redeployed its forces around Tongo.

UN troops also fired back yesterday when they came under fire from the CNDP while investigating the forced recruitment of children. They rescued 13 youngsters under the age of 18 and sent them back to their homes.

UNHCR reported widespread fighting in the Rutshuru and Masisi areas, with civilians fleeing in all directions, but mostly heading towards IDP sites around the provincial capital, Goma. “Our teams report that thousands of displaced are trapped in the towns further inland, not daring to move for fear of the fighting,” Mr. Redmond said.

Fighting throughout September has forced all humanitarian agencies to withdraw their staff from the field and has cut off the main supply route from Goma to Kitchanga and Masisi, leaving mainly the displaced at risk of a crisis.

Pending security clearance UNHCR is planning to dispatch this week to Masisi three trucks loaded with plastic sheeting, more than 14,000 sleeping mats, 15,700 blankets and 8,500 jerry cans. Another truck is scheduled to leave for Kitchanga with 1,000 mosquito nets and 1,000 bars of soap.

There are 16 UNHCR-assisted sites in North Kivu sheltering some 100,000 people. Tens of thousands of civilians have found shelter in more than 40 makeshift sites across the province.

Fighting in North Kivu intensified at the end of 2006 and by January this year the number of IDPs there reached more than 800,000. The Government has signed a peace agreement with all parties to the conflict but the ceasefire has been violated several times since. Aid agencies estimate the total number of IDPs in the province at close to 1 million.

No comments: