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DRC: Continuing LRA rampage displaces more Congolese

Briefing notes

DRC: Continuing LRA rampage displaces more Congolese

20 January 2009

Thousands of Congolese civilians have fled their homes in north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo in the wake of deadly raids by the so-called Lord's Resistance Army on villages and towns in Haut Uele district in the last five days.

The rough estimate of the total number of people forcefully displaced since the first LRA attacks last September now stands at 135,000. More than 560 Congolese people have been killed by the Ugandan rebel group over the past four months.

The Ugandan LRA began their attacks on Haut Uele villages in mid-September. The Congolese, Sudanese and Ugandan armed forces began a joint military operation against the LRA on 14 December.

A UNHCR team in the town of Dungu reports that the LRA on Saturday attacked the town of Tora, some 130 km south-east of Dungu, killing residents, pillaging and burning homesteads. Some 15,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) who fled Tora and neighbouring villages, escaping the advancing LRA bands, reached Dungu over the weekend.

Our staff say the IDPs have been arriving on motorbikes, bicycles and on foot, carrying few possessions, including mattresses, jerry cans and bundles of clothing. The new arrivals have occupied public buildings, schools and empty houses. They told UNHCR many more people are on their way to Dungu, hiding or taking a break in the forests along the way.

The Dungu area, which already hosts some 54,000 IDPs, of whom 27,000 live in the town, has limited absorption capacity. Dungu itself was raided by the LRA on November 2, forcing many of its residents to flee to villages in the south-east. Some of them are now returning home, adding to the mounting humanitarian pressure facing the town. We are working with the local authorities and other partners on finding ways to increase the absorption capacity in Dungu and its surroundings.

This morning, the local Red Cross with the support of UNHCR will start a rapid registration exercise of the newly arrived population and identify those in urgent need of assistance.

The distribution of humanitarian assistance brought to Dungu by UN agencies, including UNHCR, is scheduled to start tomorrow. The distribution of food and aid items such as plastic tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats and soap will start in the village of Bamokandi, 17-km north of Dungu, the area with the highest concentration of IDPs. Eventually, the distribution will cover the whole of Dungu area.

The displaced population in Haut Uele is in dire need of food, shelter, medicines, clothes and other aid items. This remote and increasingly unstable area of the DRC poses immense logistical challenges for aid agencies due to the lack of roads or their poor condition. We continue to work with local authorities and other agencies on finding ways of delivering assistance in these insecure and inaccessible areas.