UNHCR concerned about displaced Congolese and continuing LRA attacks
DUNGU, Democratic Republic of the Congo, January 13 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Tuesday expressed mounting concern about the plight of more than 100,000 Congolese civilians force to flee their homes to escape attacks by a rebel Ugandan force in the northern province of Orientale.
"We are increasingly concerned about the humanitarian situation and continuing attacks by ... the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)," said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond, adding that the death toll in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) province bordering Uganda and South Sudan is now estimated at 537 people.
"Another 408 people have been kidnapped by the LRA since the outbreak of violence in September last year, including victims abducted in attacks over the past four days," said the spokesman, citing figures gathered by UNHCR staff in the town of Dungu.
Rough estimates of the number of forcibly displaced in this part of the DRC have now surpassed 104,000. Many of these internally displaced people (IDPs) are still hiding in the bush, particularly in areas around the town of Faradje, which was heavily hit during the Christmas period. Out of an estimated 37,000 people who escaped from Faradje, some 16,000 have been registered so far in Tadu and surrounding villages south of Faradje. More than 10,000 of them are children.
In the Dungu area, which was attacked by the LRA last September, the local Red Cross has just completed the registration of displaced in the town and 27 nearby villages. Out of 54,777 IDPs registered, more than 27,000 are women and nearly 15,000 are children under the age of five.
The Congolese, Sudanese and Ugandan armed forces began a joint military operation against the LRA in mid-December.
The latest series of LRA attacks targeted villages and settlements south-west of Faradje. The village of Tomati, 57 kilometres south-west of Faradje, was reduced to ashes on Saturday. LRA attacks Friday and Sunday on Sambia, a mining village some 75 km from Faradje, left at least seven people dead.
"Throughout the region, sightings of LRA rebels are causing panic and new displacement. Our staff in Dungu reported this morning that there are considerable, ongoing population movements in the direction of Faradje and areas south of Dungu. In addition, 2,000 people have reportedly arrived in Ezo in neighbouring South Sudan," the spokesman said.
The UN refugee agency is extremely concerned about civilians who are caught in a conflict zone near the borders of the DRC, the Central African Republic and Sudan. According to local health authorities, the population in the Doruma area is about 56,000 people. In the Faradje district, also the scene of frequent clashes over the past few weeks, there are some 350,000 residents.
The displaced population is in dire need of food, shelter, medicine, clothes and other aid items. The area, which by itself poses immense logistical challenges due to the lack of decent roads, remains highly volatile. Safe humanitarian access remains a key challenge for UNHCR and other agencies as they strive to bring assistance.
By Margarida Fawke in Dungu, Democratic Republic of the Congo