DRC: Deadly clashes in Equateur Province forces civilians into exile

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 6 November 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

More than 16,000 civilians have fled ethnic violence in the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), crossing the Oubangui River into neighbouring Republic of Congo to find safety after their villages were burned last week.

The violent dispute is between the Enyele and Munzaya tribes over farming and fishing rights in the village of Dongo, in DRC's Equateur province. In total 60 people hjave been killed, and the deadly clashes spread to surrounding villages, several of which were burned. Forty other people were seriously injured. Some of them are in hospital in Impfondo, northern ROC, and in the capital, Brazzaville.

The 16,100 DRC asylum seekers -- who are mainly Munzayas -- are staying in public buildings or with host communities across 11 villages alongside the Oubangui River. A UNHCR team is now visiting them and our initial assement is that they need proper shelter, food and household items such as blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans. Once a thorough assessment is made, we will work together with the government to help them. Some also need medical care, but an over-stretched mobile clinic run by a UNHCR partner cannot cope with all their needs.

The first clashes between the Enyele and Munzaya happened in March 2009, when more than 200 houses were burned the village of Munzaya and more than 1,200 residents fled to safety in the Republic of Congo. UNHCR is seriously concerned about the intensity of the violence and its spread to nearby villages, which have been virtually emptied of people.

This latest violence, taking place in the west of the DRC, the third-largest country in Africa, is unrelated to fighting going on east, which has also displaced 1.7 million people within the country.

Before the current influx, there were already some 9,000 refugees from DRC in northern Republic of Congo who had sought safety from the civil war in their country, which formally ended in 2003. Although large numbers went home to the DRC with return of peace, these 9,000 wish to settle permanently in the Republic of Congo. UNHCR is working with the government to find ways to make this possible.