Renewed fighting in DR of Congo sends thousands fleeing to Burundi, UN reports
A resurgence of fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) South Kivu region has sent a new wave of more than 8,500 Congolese refugees into neighbouring Burundi over the past 12 days, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.
The new fighting originally erupted 26 December in rural areas of South Kivu, spokesman Kris Janowski said in Geneva. By New Year's Eve, it had engulfed the strategic town of Uvira on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, sending thousands of refugees across the border. Burundi already shelters more than 12,000 Congolese refugees from an earlier outbreak of hostilities last October.
The latest round of fighting for Uvira once again pits the Maï-Maï militia against the rebel group, RCD-Goma. "There are growing concerns that authorities of the rebel RCD-Goma - who control much of the Kivu region and various border crossings in South Kivu - are preventing people from leaving the volatile area," Mr. Janowski said. "New arrivals in Burundi say only those with travel documents are being allowed by the rebels to leave South Kivu."
The majority of those fleeing to Burundi, however, do not have any papers and are forced to cross the Rusizi River border before dawn when the checkpoints are unmanned. Many say they get to the border by 4 a.m. to cross the Rusizi River separating eastern DRC from Burundi. The waters of the Rusizi are, however, steadily rising due to the rainy season, raising concerns for the safety of those trying to cross.
According to the UN refugee agency, since 26 December, 7,386 refugees have registered at a transit site in Rugombo in Cibitoke Province, and 1,200 at another site in Gatumba, Bujumbura Rural.