Rebel raids displace more than 100,000 civilians in eastern Congo

News Stories, 21 April 2009

© UNHCR/S.Schulman
On the Run: Displaced Congolese ponder their future in North Kivu.

GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, April 21 (UNHCR) More than 100,000 Congolese civilians have been displaced in the volatile province of North Kivu over the past seven weeks as a result of raids by rebels who recently fought the armies of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

A series of concerted attacks carried out by the so-called Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) against civilians in the villages of Luofu, Kirumba, Kanyabonga and Kayna near Lubero, 170 kilometres north of the provincial capital of Goma, have left a trail of death and destruction and caused recurrent displacement.

According to the local authorities, the FDLR raided Luofu on Friday, killing two adults and five children and burning 255 homes. The panic-stricken residents spent the night in the bush while some fled to the nearby town of Kirumba. However, the FDLR has reportedly encircled the town since Sunday, threatening to overrun it.

Many of the displaced are hiding in the forest and are without assistance. At the same time, humanitarian agencies are unable to distribute essential aid because of the unpredictable nature of the attacks and the displacement. Another factor that adds to the prevailing insecurity is the FDLR tactic of attacking commercial vehicles on the main road linking Lubero to Goma in the south, to Beni in the north and to the Ugandan border to the east.

Displaced civilians who spoke to UNHCR were worried about the situation "We do not know what to do now. We run every day, we sleep in the forest, we fear attacks," said a shopkeeper.

The FDLR stepped up reprisal attacks against civilians in North Kivu after the armed forces of the DRC and Rwanda completed a joint military offensive against the rebel group some seven weeks ago. The FDLR is composed mainly of Rwandan Hutus who arrived in the DRC in the wake of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

With the latest surge in violence, UNHCR estimates there are now more than 1.4 million displaced people across the eastern DRC. Out of this total, almost a million have been driven from their homes in North Kivu alone by relentless fighting, general lawlessness, looting, destruction of homes and camps, killings and rapes.

Many of these people have been displaced more than once and families are often separated. The lawlessness and insecurity continues to affect aid operations, which are also hampered by the sheer size and scope of the displacement crisis in the eastern DRC.

By David Nthengwe in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo