Eastern DRC: UNHCR calling for the protection of civilians amid renewed fighting

Press Releases, 22 May 2013

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is deeply concerned about renewed fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo between government troops and fighters of the M23 rebel movement.

The UN refugee agency is particularly concerned for the safety of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) in camps around Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu. Yesterday (Tuesday), shelling was reported close to the Mugunga 3 camp for IDPs, causing panic among the more than 13,000 inhabitants, mostly women and children. Six local people living near the camp were injured during the attacks.

Since the latest fighting erupted on Tuesday, the camp at Mugunga has been emptying, with the IDPs fleeing from Mugunga and heading towards Goma, some 15 kilometres to the east. Others are heading northwards to Sake, 10 km away from the camp. Local residents are also reported to be fleeing from the Mugunga area.

An estimated 350,000 displaced people are currently living in about 55 IDP sites across North Kivu, with half of the camps located in areas affected by conflict. Tens of thousands have fled since April 2012, when the intermittent fighting between the DR Congolese army and the M23 forces first began. The conflict also sent more than 60,000 Congolese into exile in Uganda and Rwanda.

Last November, the M23 captured and briefly held Goma, but the two sides opened peace talks the following month in Uganda. These appear to have broken down.

UNHCR is calling on all the parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of all civilians, including displaced people.

"The principle of distinguishing between military targets and the civilian population must be respected," said Germaine Bationo, UNHCR's acting regional representative in DRC.

According to UN estimates, there are more than 2.5 million forcibly displaced people in the DR Congo, including some 900,000 people in North Kivu.

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