The military operation by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda against ethnic Rwandan Hutu militias is heightening tensions in South Kivu province, driving at least 5,000 people from their homes and threatening to impede the repatriation of Congolese refugees from neighbouring Tanzania, the United Nations reported today.
About 5,000 people have fled the Makobola area south of the South Kivu regional centre of Uvira after the so-called Mai Mai militia, which opposes the joint DRC/Rwanda offensive against the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) in North Kivu, blocked a main road.
Makobola is also a major destination for Congolese refugees returning from exile in Tanzania. “We are concerned that the growing tensions and the blockage, which has temporarily stopped all movements between Uvira and Fizi, where we also have a field presence, could force more displacement,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.
More Rwandans are also opting to return home from the DRC, including relatives of FDLR members. “Last week, we assisted 222 Rwandans to return home. Another 301 are now in a transit centre in Bukavu [the South Kivu capital] and various assembly points in South Kivu waiting to be repatriated,” Mr. Redmond said.
With more Rwandan civilians asking to go home, UNHCR is expanding the reception capacity of six existing assembly points throughout South Kivu. Those wishing to return gather at the assembly points, where they are collected by UNHCR and taken to a UNHCR departure facility.
In North Kivu, the joint offensive is sending more Congolese refugees, most of them women and children, to Uganda, with some 1,300 crossing over in the past four days and more arriving daily. So far 4,500 Congolese have fled to Uganda this month and some 40,000 since August last year.
UNHCR is working with the Ugandan Government to provide shelter, hot meals, water, sanitation and medical assistance as well as blankets, plastic sheeting and jerry-cans to the new arrivals at the Matanda Reception Centre. Next week, UNHCR plans to relocate some of the 8,000 Congolese refugees presently at Matanda to Kyangwali refugee camp in Masindi district.
The UN peacekeeping mission in DRC (MONUC), which is supporting the joint offensive against the Rwandan Hutu rebels, is to send six to eight staff military officers to the DRC/Rwanda operation’s headquarters in Goma, North Kivu’s capital, with the goal of joining in planning the operation, as well as work on issues such as humanitarian coordination and the demobilization of former Congolese or ethnic Rwandan Hutu fighters.