Lord's Resistance Army attacks populated areas of north-eastern Congo

UNHCR says it is alarmed by an upsurge in violence against civilians by a rebel Ugandan group in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

On Your Bike: These civilians are fleeing to safety after attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army in Orientale province.  © UNHCR/D.Nthengwe

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, March 1 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said Tuesday it is alarmed by an upsurge in violence against civilians by a rebel Ugandan group in north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. A particularly worrying development is that the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, appears to be targeting more populated areas.

Since January, the LRA has intensified its attacks in Orientale province, killing at least 35 people, abducting 104 others and displacing more than 17,000 people. Since the start of the year, UNHCR has received reports of 52 raids.

The rebel group has traditionally attacked rural targets, but the LRA's latest attacks have centred on the towns of Niangara, Dungu, Faradje and Ango, which lie in the Haut and Bas Uele districts.

The latest attack was on February 24 against the town of Banangana, where eight people were killed and 30 abducted. A 14-year-old girl is reported to be fighting for her life after being shot in the chest.

On February 11, the LRA launched an attack on Faradje territory, forcing several aid agencies to evacuate staff and leaving residents to fend for themselves. There have also been attacks on vehicles transporting humanitarian assistance. On February 21, a truck ferrying relief supplies and food for NGO Solidarités was attacked in the vicinity of Garamba National Park.

LRA violence is seriously hampering humanitarian work in the province. According to UN data, some 2,000 people have been killed and 2,500 abducted, including 892 children, in attacks against civilians across Orientale province since December 2007.

Those who are abducted are used as porters, forced to work in the fields, or used as sex slaves or new recruits. Attacks are often accompanied by extreme cruelty, including murder, mutilation, or amputation of the lips and ears - apparently aimed at terrorizing people with a view to displacing entire populations. Trauma lasting months or years is common among those who have fled.

In addition to the attacks in DRC the LRA also raided the village of Madabuzuma in the Central Africa Republic on the 9th of February, forcing people from their homes and displacing some into neighbouring DRC. Registration of the resulting CAR refugees is going on in the Kpala Kpala refugee camp in Bondo in Bas Uele district. So far, we have registered 82 new arrivals. The camp already hosts some 800 CAR refugees who fled previous LRA attacks.

LRA attacks are causing one of Africa's biggest population displacements. Since 2008, some 290,000 people have been uprooted in Orientale province. During the same period 20,000 Congolese have sought refugee in southern Sudan, while 3,500 have fled to the CAR.

By Celine Schmitt in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo