UNHCR condemns deadly attack on camp for displaced Congolese
GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, June 5 (UNHCR) - 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 Rutshuru 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.
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 Kinyandoni blamed the attack on the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR. The Congolese army later drove the attackers out of the camp.
"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 UNHCR's Africa Bureau.
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 children, who had been attending a ceremony linked to World Environment Day (June 5).
"One of the IDPs ran to tell us that the FDLR soldiers had entered the camp. Before we could react, we heard the first shots and everyone fled in all directions. People were screaming as the soldiers shot directly into the crowd," said a UNHCR worker.
Emile Segbor, UNHCR's deputy coordinator for operations in eastern DRC, said there was pandemonium in the SLAO office as shots rang out just outside the door.
"People hid under benches and tables when the soldiers starting shooting indiscriminately," he said from Goma, adding: "Two of the children died overnight. SLAO is preparing their burial."
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.