DRC: UNHCR urges forces to respect humanitarian principles
UNHCR has urged rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure the protection of civilians in accordance with humanitarian principles in a makeshift site for some 10,000 internally displaced civilians [IDPs] near a UN peacekeeping base in the Rutshuru area, 80 km north of Goma.
The appeal this week was made to the CNDP rebel forces of Laurent Nkunda following continuing reports that IDPs at the site are being pressured to go back to their villages. IDPs should not be intimidated and we oppose any attempt to coerce them to return against their wish. All returns should be voluntary. We were particularly concerned to learn of recent demands seeking lists of displaced persons at the site and their villages of origin. The IDPs also told us some have been arbitrarily detained or forced to work. The 10,000 IDPs in the camp, in the village of Kiwanja on the outskirts of Rutshuru, are in dire need of assistance - mainly shelter, cooking utensils and food. The makeshift camp has been growing since October outside the UN peacekeepers' base (MONUC).
Nkunda's CNDP took control over Rutshuru during clashes at the end of October. They claim that the rebel controlled areas, including Jomba, Kisigari, Busanza, and Rugari, are safe for return
Some of the IDPs tell us they prefer to remain near the MONUC base for security reasons, which also allows them to stay close to their villages. Others say they would prefer to be relocated to Goma, while some say they would flee to Uganda if they could.
UNHCR and its partners are planning a needs assessment followed by distribution of food and other humanitarian assistance. Water supply and latrines remain a major concern.
Meanwhile, in Minova, a town some 50 km south-west of Goma along Lake Kivu, on the administrative border between the North and South Kivu, we are working with other UN agencies and NGOs to set up a camp for at least 4,000 IDPs living in half a dozen spontaneous sites in the town. Another 2,000 IDP families are living with the host community.
Some of the spontaneous IDP sites around Minova are nearly a year old, while other new sites have emerged as a result of fighting which recently resumed in North Kivu. Families continue to occupy schools, churches and more recently parts of the local hospital compound. Efforts have been made to identify a new site to be used for the transfer of IDPs occupying these public buildings.
There are continued reports of more IDPs arriving in Minova from the nearby Hauts Plateaux de Numbi. Some of the IDPs say that their farms have been looted and taken over by Nkunda's forces. Others say they are moving to Minova for assistance.
Fighting in North Kivu intensified at the end of 2006. By January 2008, it had brought the total number of IDPs in the region to more than 846,000. Since the fighting resumed in August, some 250,000 civilians have fled, many of them already displaced.