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D.R. Congo: Mission to assess refugee site hit by rebels

Briefing notes

D.R. Congo: Mission to assess refugee site hit by rebels

29 October 2002

UNHCR remains very concerned about the safety of tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees in the north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo province of Ituri following recent fighting between various factions. Our local NGO partner will try today to send a mission into last week's conflict area around the village of Biringi, where we have reports that some of the 17,000 Sudanese refugees who fled into the bush are now beginning to trickle back into the settlement. The fighting has now apparently moved towards the town of Kandoi, 40 km west of Biringi, but UNHCR remains concerned about the overall security situation in the north-east, where there are some 75,000 Sudanese refugees.

Ethnic clashes first started on Monday, October 21, between rebels of the Congolese Patriotic Union/Popular Rally (UPC-RP, believed to supporters of the Hema ethnic group) and ethnic Lendu militias in Biringi municipality. Biringi refugee settlement, located near the centre of the municipality, was overrun by the UPC-RP rebels who caused panic and drove more than 14,500 refugees in Biringi, along with locals, into the bush. On Thursday, further fighting between the two groups shifted the conflict to the nearby refugee settlement of Ayamba, on the outskirts of Biringi municipality. Another 2,500 Sudanese refugees, together with the NGO staff working for UNHCR, fled from the fighting as Lendu militias looted the settlement while retreating.

Today, staff of the Diocèse de Mahagi (DDM), a local NGO working in Ayamba refugee settlement on UNHCR's behalf, are scheduled to travel from Ayamba to the centre of Biringi to assess the situation, including possible casualties among the local or refugee populations. So far, we have no reports of casualties among the refugees. UNHCR staff based in Aru, 80 km east of Biringi near the border with Uganda, have not been able to travel to the refugee sites because of security concerns. Although there is no fighting along the Aru-Biringi main road, heavy military presence is reported and the roads are still unsafe.