Thousands of Congolese refugees have poured into neighbouring Uganda, saying that they were fleeing fighting between two major ethnic groups in the eastern Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the United Nations refugee agency said today.
An estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people have made their way across Lake Albert by boat to the village of Nkondo, some 285 kilometres from the Ugandan capital of Kampala, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.
With most of the refugees being women and children in poor health who were unable to climb up the escarpment rising from the lake, UNHCR had sent blankets, soap and other relief items from its Kampala warehouse to Nkondo and had contacted other UN agencies to provide food and sanitation. It was also negotiating with the local authorities to put up a water tank.
Another 10,000 Congolese had arrived in Ishaka, further north along the border with DRC, and may be transferred to Kyaka, an existing refugee settlement six hours away in western Uganda, but one lacking sufficient water so far, UNHCR said.
The refugees have said there is fighting between Hema and Lendu militias and UNHCR said the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) reported clashes between a faction of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC-L) and the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI). The UPC is a Hema militia and the FNI a Lendu militia.