The United Nations is rushing food to thousands of displaced Congolese in northwest Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where tribal clashes have driven 130,000 people from their homes.
“Because of ongoing clashes in the area where these people live, it has been difficult to get food assistance to those who need it most,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) Country Director Abdou Dieng said, noting that the food distributions would be widened if security conditions improved.
Convoys carrying 50 metric tons of food escorted by peacekeepers from the UN mission in DRC (MONUC) left Gemena in Equateur Province yesterday for the two distribution sites in Bozene and Boyazala, where more than 6,000 displaced people will receive month-long rations of maize, beans, vegetable oil and salt, to be distributed by AVEP, a Congolese non-governmental organization (NGO).
According to the Congolese Government, 270 people were killed when inter-ethnic clashes between the Enyele and Munzaya tribes first erupted in a dispute over access to fishing ponds in the Dongo area in November. More than 130,000 people have been displaced since then, over 84,000 of them fleeing across the Oubangui river into the neighbouring Republic of Congo where they started receiving WFP food aid at the end of November.
Within DRC, the UN has estimated that some 40,000 people have been displaced internally, but the figure might now be higher.
The town of Dongo is reported to be deserted while some localities like Bozene have started to see some returns, but a large number of people are still sleeping in the forest for fear of new violence. Harvest activities have been affected.
MONUC peacekeepers and the national army and police have been carrying out joint patrols to reassure people in Mbandaka, the capital of Equateur, that they are safe, and the mission’s military presence in the area has been growing, with 700 troops situated in South Ubangui district and more expected to arrive in the coming days.
Overall MONUC fields some 20,000 uniformed personnel in the huge country, with the vast majority in the war-torn east. Since its inception 10 years ago, the mission has seen a return to relative stability in much of the country after years of civil war, culminating in the first democratic elections in more than 40 years,
But fierce fighting has persisted in the east, particularly in North and South Kivu, where Hutu militants blamed for the Rwandan genocide of 1994 have fled, compounding hostilities in a region already beset by ethnic tensions.