Thousands have fled to Southern Sudan after a notorious Ugandan rebel group rampaged through a town in the northeast region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the United Nations refugee agency said today.
At least six people were killed and another 21 kidnapped Saturday night in an attack on the town of Aba in Orientale Province by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who also plundered the local Protestant parish and hospital.
“According to our team in Southern Sudan, some 5,000 Congolese refugees from Alba arrived over the weekend in the town of Lasu, some 50 kms from the DRC border,” Ron Redmond, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said today in Geneva. “They said thousands more are on the way.”
The refugees told UNHCR staff in Lasu on Sunday that 90 per cent of Aba's 100,000 people had left the town and many more could be expected to arrive in Southern Sudan in the next few days. The new arrivals are occupying schools and church buildings along a main road into Lasu, they said.
Oriental Province has been exposed to brutal and deadly attacks by the LRA, notorious for abducting children as soldiers and sex slaves, since last September, killing some 900 Congolese and displacing some 150,000 more.
Relative calm, meanwhile, is returning to areas around Dungu, a regional centre in the Haut Uele territory heavily hit by the LRA in earlier attacks, and UNHCR’s humanitarian partners report the first signs of return to a number of villages north of the town, Mr. Redmond said.
Over the weekend a second convoy of 14 trucks brought more plastic sheeting, blankets, sleeping mats, kitchen sets and soap to distribute to the displaced population in the villages south of Dungu, he added.
The spokesperson noted that UNHCR teams trained 60 local Red Cross officials and others on conducting a re-registration exercise in the neighbouring villages around Dungu in order to obtain more accurate information about the displaced population and their intentions.
Yesterday, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes visited the region of the DRC devastated by the LRA and told Ugandan and Congolese army commanders, who are now leading a military campaign aimed at rooting out the rebel group, to prioritize the protection of civilians in the area.
Wrapping up his four-day visit, Mr. Holmes met in Kinshasa today with Secretary-General’s Special Representative Alan Doss, MONUC’s Force Commander and the UN Country Team. He also met with representatives of the donor and diplomatic communities as well with Congolese President Joseph Kabila and other senior officials.
“The dreadful atrocities against the population by the LRA place a huge responsibility on all concerned – Government, international partners and allies alike – to do much more to protect civilians during the joint operations and in their aftermath,” he said, referring to the DRC-Sudanese-Ugandan offensive launched to flush the LRA out of eastern DRC.