UNHCR visits Congolese towns attacked by Lord's Resistance Army
BUNIA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, January 6 (UNHCR) - UNHCR staff have taken part in a joint assessment mission to an area of north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo) hit by deadly attacks in recent weeks by a rebel Ugandan group.
A UN team, gathering members of UNHCR and sister agencies, met local officials, representatives of local non-governmental organizations (NGO), and displaced civilians during last weekend's visit to the towns of Tadu and Faradje in Orientale province.
The rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) attacked Faradje, some 100 kilometres west of the border between the DRC, Sudan and Uganda, on December 25-26, leaving at least 70 people dead and forcing some 37,000 to flee.
According to initial estimates, LRA fighters have killed up to 500 Congolese civilians in various attacks in the region since the launch on December 14 of a joint Congolese, Sudanese and Ugandan military operation against the rebels. The UN estimates more than 50,000 people have been displaced since mid-December, which is in addition to the 50,000 displaced during an earlier escalation of violence between September and November last year.
The latest rebel attack came on Monday in the Orientale village of Napopo. According to a sketchy report received by UNHCR, up to eight people were killed and houses set ablaze. An unknown number of people were reportedly kidnapped. Two days earlier, rebels attacked the village of Nagero, 24 kms north-west of Faradje, killing at least eight people and displacing some 3,500.
Meanwhile, the joint UN team found that most of those displaced by the LRA's Christmas attack on Faradje and its surroundings were still hiding in the bush. Some of the displaced moved towards Tadu, 37 kms south of Faradje where more than 1,000 displaced people have been registered, mostly women and children.
According to the displaced from Faradje and local NGOs, 225 people, including 160 children, have been kidnapped by the LRA and more than 80 women raped. The mission reported that people in the area were shocked and traumatized by the brutality of the attacks.
UNHCR team members said Faradje had been pillaged and destroyed by fire. More than 800 houses, three schools, government buildings and medical facilities were burned down. Most of Faradje's households lost their annual rice harvest in the fires.
Registration of the newly displaced population is under way in Tadu, Faradje and neighbouring villages. The population is in dire need of food, shelter, medicine, clothes and other aid items. However, the area remains highly volatile and insecurity is a key obstacle for access by UNHCR and other aid agencies. The refugee agency is working with the local authorities and others to find ways of managing assistance in these inaccessible areas.
By Margarida Fawke in Bunia, Democratic Republic of the Congo