Clashes between the army in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and remnants of a Ugandan insurgency forced an estimated 20,000 people to flee their villages in the troubled North Kivu province of the vast African country, the United Nations reported today.
While the number of those newly displaced as a result of skirmishes between the national army and fighters of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) is small in relation to DRC’s estimated 1.85 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), the movement of people is noteworthy because the territory of Beni in North Kivu had until now hosted only 10,000 IDPs, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.
Last week’s displacement was the first since 2006 caused by fighting involving the ADF, according to OCHA. Aid workers are concerned over the potential consequences of the latest clashes on civilians.
“We are concerned by this development,” said Richard Dackam-Ngatchou, acting UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, who stressed the need to avoid causing suffering to civilians who are caught up in the clashes.
The inter-agency Rapid Response to Movements of Population (RRMP) programme has sent a team to the affected area in a bid to ensure that life-saving assistance is urgently provided. A contingency humanitarian response plan is also being drafted to enhance preparedness in the event of more people being forced to flee.
Humanitarian agencies currently estimate that at least 14,000 people are in urgent need of life-saving assistance, including food, shelter, water, and medical care. Of these, 2,000 have already been assisted through the RRMP.
“We don’t know whether these violent attacks on civilians mark a renewed trend or an isolated incident,” said Mohamed Boukry, Regional Representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The ADF is a rebel group opposed to the Ugandan Government. It started carrying out attacks inside Uganda from hideouts in the west of the country and rear bases in neighbouring DRC in 1996, but has been rarely heard of since 2004 following a major offensive by the Ugandan army against it.The group is one of several foreign armed factions operating in eastern DRC, including the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which also has its roots in Uganda, and the Rwandan Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR).
In a related development, a series of attacks affecting humanitarian actors were reported last week in North Kivu, OCHA spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva. A total of 68 attacks involving humanitarian organizations and their staff have been reported since the beginning of this year.
Ms. Byrs also said that there were large numbers of sexual violence cases reported in the Isiro area of Haut-Uele district of Orientale province between last May and June, according to provincial authorities there. Perpetrators of those acts of violence are believed to be civilians, according to the reports.
According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), 15,275 cases of rape – the vast majority by armed men – were reported in eastern DRC in 2009.
On humanitarian funding, Ms. Byrs reported that this year’s consolidated appeal for DRC is currently 41 per cent funded with $335 million of the $827 million requested so far received. The funding gap, if not bridged, is likely to affect key humanitarian sectors including health, food, education and water and sanitation.