The United Nations refugee agency voiced serious concern today over the plight of thousands of civilians who have fled their homes to escape daily attacks by the many armed groups operating in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that civilians in North Kivu province continued to be terrorized by groups such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which has been the target of recent joint operations conducted by Rwanda and DRC.
In the far north-east area of Haut Uélé of Orientale Province, which borders on Uganda, villagers continue to flee fresh attacks by the Lord''s Resistance Army (LRA), the Ugandan rebel group notorious for abducting children as soldiers and sex slaves.
The various rebel attacks in North Kivu have since last year displaced over 250,000 people, while in Orientale region, nearly 190,000 have been displaced in the last six months, and some 16,000 refugees have fled to South Sudan.
In the past several weeks, after their homes were plundered and torched by various armed groups, more than 20,000 people fled into the forest from villages in the Rutshuru district of North Kivu, UNHCR said.
This week, a joint UN assessment team, including UNHCR, has reported that heavily armed FDLR and allied PARECO militia forces seem to be surrounding the North Kivu village of Pinga, causing panic among its 8,500 population, including some 2,000 previously displaced persons.
Meanwhile, in Haut Uélé, a UNHCR convoy with 22 tonnes of much-needed assistance destined for displaced people was forced to turn back following reports of nearby LRA groups, and further LRA attacks were reported in the neighbouring district of Bas Uélé.
During a visit to North Kivu last week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative for the DRC, Alan Doss, pledged that the UN peacekeeping mission there – known as MONUC – will reinforce its presence in localities and continue to logistically support the Government army in its operations against the FDLR and other armed groups.