UN agencies warn of looming disaster as tensions rise in eastern DR Congo

13 July 2007

United Nations agencies have begun assisting more than 10,000 people who have recently fled fighting, pillaging, rape and other atrocities in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), while warning that the situation could worsen amid military manoeuvres that threaten even greater instability.

United Nations agencies have begun assisting more than 10,000 people who have recently fled fighting, pillaging, rape and other atrocities in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), while warning that the situation could worsen amid military manoeuvres that threaten even greater instability.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) are making a joint distribution to the displaced in the Buganga area in the North Kivu province, which is facing the worst displacement situation in three years, with 163,000 people forced to flee since January. A total of 650,000 people have been internally displaced in the province.

“We are increasingly concerned by the spiralling displacement and atrocities in eastern DRC,” said UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis. “With heightened tensions and the build-up of military forces, the situation risks turning into humanitarian and human rights disaster,” she warned.

“We are concerned that fresh military operations by renegade brigades, militia groups or government forces will result in greater suffering for the civilian population without leading to more stability.”

The displaced people receiving aid today – blankets, kitchen sets, water containers and soap – fled fighting between mixed brigades and militia groups in May and are now living with host families, according to UNHCR.

But those homes are under strain, and the number of sites for displaced has expanded to nine, leaving people more exposed to disease and violence as the militarization of the area continues, warned the agency, which has deployed camp management teams to North Kivu province to help improve living conditions.

But despite their efforts, humanitarian agencies face difficulties in accessing the sites because of the worsening security situation. “Our field monitoring teams are regularly visiting displacement areas to assess the needs and record human rights violations,” said Ms. Pagonis.

The agency is coordinating its efforts with UN peacekeeping troops to deploy mobile teams to sites where displaced need physical protection, and plans to visit more sites in the Kisharu area, where Ms. Pagonis said “the situation is rapidly deteriorating.”

She urged all armed parties in North Kivu to “immediately halt direct attacks on civilians and atrocities which include burning of villages, widespread pillaging and raping of women.”

 

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