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Ugandan rebel army, attacking inside Congo, drives 125,000 from their homes

Ugandan rebel army, attacking inside Congo, drives 125,000 from their homes

The latest brutal attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Orientale Province bring to 540,000 the number uprooted in far north-eastern DRC in the last year.
28 August 2009
On Your Bike: These civilians are fleeing to safety after attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army in Orientale province.

DUNGU, Democratic Republic of the Congo, August 28 (UNHCR) -- The scale of destruction and displacement caused by the Ugandan rebel group the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in eastern DRC is becoming clearer as news emerges that at least 125,000 people have been driven out of their villages in the Haut Uele district of Orientale province in the last three weeks alone.

This brings to 540,000 the number of Congolese uprooted in Orientale province in the far northeast of the country since September 2008 by the LRA, notorious for its brutality in looting, killing and kidnapping civilians.

Karl Steinacker, UNHCR's Coordinator for eastern DRC, who is currently touring the area, describes the situation as "the most severe humanitarian crisis ongoing in eastern Congo at the moment" - an area wracked by war since 1999.

Civilians told UNHCR of the traumas they endured at the hands of the LRA over the last weeks. "I am blind, but the LRA has forced me, who could be their grandfather, to flee," said a 95-year-old man north of Dungu, one of the places hardest hit by the LRA attacks despite the fact that it is more than 400 kilometres west of the Ugandan border.

Displaced civilians say they are terrified to go home. "I cannot go back to my village," a woman from the same area told UNHCR officers. "The LRA has looted and burned down our homes."

Rebels have reportedly killed some 1,270 people and abducted 655 children in Orientale province. They have also destroyed hundreds of homesteads and pillaged health centres, schools and other public buildings.

UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies have distributed aid kits consisting of blankets, kitchen sets, jerry cans, mosquito nets, sleeping mats and soap to 11,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) around the villages of Ngilima and Kapili, north-west of Dungu, the capital of Haut Uele district.

However, insecurity and impassable roads continue to make it difficult for aid agencies to reach and help the vast majority of the displaced. Moreover, as the number of IDPs increases, friction over the meagre resources has erupted between the displaced and host families who have been stretched to the limit. Some of the host families have been hosting the displaced since September last when the LRA started its attacks in Haut Uele.

The LRA has also forced an estimated 8,000 Congolese to flee to neighbouring South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR). Some 6,500 of these have gone to the Western Equatoria region of South Sudan, where LRA attacks in Ezo forced UN staff to evacuate less than a fortnight ago.

In CAR, the Congolese refugees headed for Mboki and Obo in the eastern part of the country bordering both DRC and Sudan. This week UNHCR dispatched a team from Bangui to Mboki to assess the situation and assist the refugees and internally displaced people.