Rebel occupation causes panic among Sudanese refugees in DR of Congo, UN says
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today expressed concern about the situation of more than 17,000 Sudanese in a refugee camp in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) following the occupation of the site by rebels earlier this week.
The UN agency said that rebels of the Congolese Patriotic Union/Popular Rally (UPC–RP) had moved into the Biringi refugee settlement, 80 kilometres west of the town of Aru, where there had been intense fighting between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups for several months.
According to UNHCR, the UPC rebels believed to be supporters of the Hema were retreating northwards on Monday when Lendu fighters blocked their withdrawal. Reports say the blockade sent the rebels into the Biringi settlement and surrounding areas, causing panic among the refugees and the local population, who fled into the bush.
Renewed fighting broke out yesterday between the UPC–RP and ethnic Lendu militias 15 kilometres from Biringi, preventing movement to or from Aru. UN staff in the town had been unable to get to Biringi to assess the refugee situation there and the majority of refugees in the area are said to be still in hiding.
Sudanese refugees have been in the DRC for the past 12 years, according to UNHCR. While a few arrived between 1998 and 2000 and still depend on humanitarian assistance, the majority of them are long-time refugees who have integrated into villages where they have reached a level of self-sufficiency. UNHCR assists 41,000 Sudanese in northeast DRC, out of a total population of 75,600.