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UNHCR condemns attack on displaced people in eastern D.R. Congo

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UNHCR condemns attack on displaced people in eastern D.R. Congo

5 June 2008

Thursday, 5 June 2008

GENEVA - The UN refugee agency on Thursday condemned a rebel attack on a makeshift camp in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) that left at least nine people dead, including two children, and scores wounded.

UNHCR said it was evacuating staff and temporarily suspending operations in the Ruthsuru area of North Kivu province after Wednesday's raid on Kinyandoni camp, which shelters some 5,000 internally displaced people (IDPs).

The wounded included two NGO aid workers who were working with UNHCR. Some of the injured are being treated at health facilities in Rutshuru, some 10 kms away, while others have been transferred to the provincial capital of Goma.

All other humanitarian aid agencies have also decided to pull out of the area, which is located about 70 kilometres north of Goma. The displaced people in Kinyadoni blamed the attack on the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR.

"We are shocked and alarmed by the fact that the displaced people, already victims of the fighting last year, were directly targeted. The attackers rampaged through the camp, killing and pillaging," said Marjon Kamara, Director of the UNHCR Africa Bureau. "We need a lasting peace in North Kivu as there are hundreds of thousands of displaced people in need of shelter, protection and solutions."

UNHCR staff, government officials and staff from a local aid agency, Saving Lives through Alternative Options (SLAO), were in the camp during the rebel attack. At midday Wednesday, several armed men stormed SLAO's office in the camp and robbed staff of mobile telephones and cash.

As they left the premises, the rebels started shooting indiscriminately at people in the camp, including a group of playing children. The Congolese army later drove the attackers out of the camp. Two children who were shot in the camp died overnight in Kinyandoni.

The UN refugee agency established a presence in Rutshuru last November to help tens of thousands of newly arrived IDPs living in six sites in the area. Because of the fragile security situation, UNHCR and other aid agencies were only able to reach IDPs in Kinyandoni for the first time in March this year. Barely one month later, fresh fighting erupted nearby between government forces and FDLR rebels, forcing a brief suspension of registration of new IDPs and the distribution of aid.

A peace accord was signed between the government and a number of Congolese rival groups in January 2008. But it has been breached on several occasions. Late last year, the DRC government also pledged to disarm FDLR troops on its territory. Local and international human rights groups claim there has been little progress in implementing January's peace accord.

UNHCR and its partners are managing sites sheltering around 80,000 IDPs in North Kivu. Out of DRC's total IDP population of 1.3 million, an estimated 860,000 are in the volatile province.