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DRC: UNHCR suspends aid distribution amid fresh violence in North Kivu

Briefing notes

DRC: UNHCR suspends aid distribution amid fresh violence in North Kivu

25 April 2008 Also available in:

Our office in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) North Kivu province yesterday (Thursday) halted a distribution of aid to displaced people amid a fresh eruption of violence. Hundreds of people have fled fighting in the Rutshuru area since the clashes began at the weekend.

UNHCR has also suspended the registration of new arrivals at sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Rutshuru area, some 70 km north of the provincial capital of Goma. We had been helping the government register the hundreds of newly displaced, who have added to an estimated IDP population of some 860,000 in North Kivu.

The suspensions came amid reports of new fighting yesterday between government soldiers and fighters from the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) movement near the Kinyandoni Anglican IDP site. We don't have further details at the moment.

The latest round of displacement in North Kivu came after a splinter faction of the FDLR reportedly raided villages late Saturday near the town of Kiwanja in the Rutshuru area. Aid agencies report that one woman was killed during the attacks. Clashes were reported between the government and rebels in the area on Sunday.

Following the first outbreak of violence and exodus of people, staff in our Rutshuru field office visited IDP sites in the area to find out more about the attacks and to assess the needs of the displaced. While hundreds have been registered as displaced, our staff and other aid workers say there have been many new arrivals at sites around Kiwanja. The majority are staying in public buildings due to a shortage of shelter. They have been receiving food from people displaced in earlier waves of violence.

The newly arrived IDPs had harrowing tales. Some said their homes were destroyed and their possessions looted, while others had lost touch with their children. Most of those arriving in the IDP sites are women and children. Our staff say that medical assistance is urgently needed amid fears of a cholera outbreak.

The displacement in the Rutshuru area comes three months after the signing of an accord in Goma between the government and rival armed groups aimed at bringing lasting peace to the eastern region after more than a decade of conflict. The accord has generally been holding but tensions remained high.

On Wednesday, a coalition of 63 international and Congolese human rights groups warned that there had been little progress toward lasting peace in eastern DRC since the signing of the Goma accord, which they urged the signatories to fully implement. They also called for the appointment of an international human rights adviser to address abuses in the east.

A peace agreement in 2003 formally brought years of strife to a close, but fighting flared again in North Kivu in 2003. There are an estimated 1.3 million IDPs in the country and some 350,000 Congolese refugees outside.