UNHCR concerned about violence in North Kivu as aid worker killed

UNHCR condemns attack on a vehicle carrying staff of an Italian aid agency that leaves one person dead in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Displaced and vulnerable young Congolese at the Kibati site. UNHCR is concerned about security.   © UNHCR/P.Taggart

GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, December 16 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Tuesday condemned an attack on a vehicle carrying staff of an Italian aid agency that left one person dead and another injured in the strife-torn Congolese province of North Kivu.

"UNHCR deplores the cold-blooded murder of a staff member of the Italian NGO, Voluntary Association for International Service (AVSI)," a spokesperson said, adding that armed men had on Monday ambushed the vehicle near Rutshuru town, which is located some 70 kilometres north of the provincial capital, Goma.

AVSI started its humanitarian activities in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2002 and, among its current activities, is working with children in the new UNHCR-run Mugunga III camp, just west of Goma. Monday's ambush comes amid mounting UNHCR concern about the safety of internally displaced people (IDPs) in camps north of Goma following a number of security incidents.

Last week, two young girls were shot in Kibati. A five-year-old died and a seven-year-old girl was fighting for her life in a local hospital. UNHCR staff also reported that another woman had been raped last Thursday by armed men in the vicinity of Kibati camp. The agency is concerned that the civilian character of the two UNHCR-run camps at Kibati is continually violated.

The UNHCR spokesperson also said on Tuesday that the agency was alarmed by reports in Rutshuru that fighters loyal to renegade commander, Laurent Nkunda, were pressuring IDPs currently seeking refuge in a makeshift site close to the base of the UN peace-keeping mission (MONUC) to return to their villages. Some 10,000 IDPs are sheltering around the MONUC base, fearing reprisals from armed groups.

Renewed fighting between Nkunda's soldiers and government troops has forced some 250,000 people to flee for their lives in North Kivu since August.

UNHCR has received worrying reports that the rebels are stopping people trying to reach the site near the MONUC base. The rebel group has reportedly recruited youths to conduct night patrols and to prevent people from reaching the site.

A UNHCR team on mission to Rutshuru further reported that most displaced families tend to leave the makeshift site near MONUC and go to their villages during the day, but return before nightfall. Many who spoke to UNHCR appealed to be relocated elsewhere as their situation had become more precarious. They also reported arbitrary detentions by the rebels.

Near Goma, meanwhile, UNHCR is continuing the voluntary transfers of IDPs from the Kibati camps near Goma to the new site at Mugunga III. "So far, we have assisted more than 3,200 displaced persons to relocate to Mugunga III, and we continue to transfer about 600 daily," the spokesperson said. According to latest UNHCR estimates, there are now more than 142,000 displaced people in the six UNHCR-run IDP camps in the immediate vicinity of Goma.

Fighting in North Kivu intensified at the end of 2006. By January 2008, it had brought the total number of IDPs in the North Kivu region to more than 846,000.

By David Nthengwe in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo