Congolese survivors of LRA attacks appeal for protection and aid
A joint UN team has managed to reach the north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) village of Duru, scene of successive attacks by the so-called Lord's Resistance Army. Duru, first attacked by the LRA in September, was again targeted by the Ugandan rebel group earlier this week, leaving four dead and the village a virtual ghost town.
UNHCR staff who flew by helicopter to the area on Wednesday reported that this once vibrant village was now deserted and overgrown with vegetation. Survivors in Duru took the risk of venturing out of their hiding places to meet the visiting team. Our colleagues were shocked by the physical condition of the villagers, many of them clad in rags, looking famished and weak after spending nights in the bush without blankets or shelter. UNHCR heard distressing accounts of atrocities committed by the Ugandan rebel group, who the survivors said had last raided the village on Monday and Tuesday, killing four people, injuring a 4-year-old girl and abducting a 9-year-old boy.
According to UNHCR's team in the regional centre of Dungu, 90 km south of Duru, the death toll in the DRC's Oriental province bordering Uganda and South Sudan is now estimated at 567 people since the start of LRA attacks last September. The estimate includes the victims of the reported attacks this week on Duru and Diagbe, further to the north. Estimates of the number of forcibly displaced in this part of the DRC have now surpassed 115,000 and are likely to continue to grow.
The villagers in Duru told UNHCR the rebels looted and torched their houses, forcing residents to flee into the forest. Some of them fled towards Dungu. Another 2,000 crossed into neighbouring Sudan. Those who remained in Duru, are traumatized and in urgent need of assistance.
They also told our team that they did not feel safe, fearing new assaults, rape and abductions. There are no medical personnel in the village to attend to the sick and injured and there are no medicines. The remaining villagers also said it was not safe to drink water from the wells.
At the time of the first LRA attack on Duru in September 2008 there were some 6,000 inhabitants. Now, less than 1,000 people (180 families) remain.
Aid agencies face enormous logistical challenges in getting to the communities affected by the LRA attacks. Duru, for example, can only be reached by helicopter with a security escort of UN peacekeepers (MONUC). Limited physical access, insecurity and impassable roads are hampering both the delivery and the distribution of relief aid.
Aid is, however, coming to other parts of Dungu district. On Tuesday, a UN convoy carrying 70 metric tones of food and aid items provided by UN humanitarian agencies, including UNHCR, reached Dungu. The trucks, which left Goma, the capital of North Kivu, 10 days ago, brought WFP maize, salt, cooking oil and peas as well as UNHCR blankets, sleeping mats, kitchen sets, jerry cans and soap. In the coming days and weeks, we are hoping to reach, in joint efforts with our partners, some 100,000 displaced persons in locations such as Duru, Faradje, Doruma, Watsa and Isiro, which have not received any assistance since last September.
We are planning to take part in additional joint missions to the embattled areas this weekend to obtain more information on the scale of the forced displacement and needs of the population.