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DRC: New details emerging on recent ethnic clashes in Congo

Briefing notes

DRC: New details emerging on recent ethnic clashes in Congo

10 November 2009

New details of the ethnic bloodshed in the Equateur province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) at the beginning of this month are emerging as UNHCR and Republic of Congo (ROC) authorities visit refugees scattered in villages along a 160-km stretch of the Oubangi River that forms the border between DRC and ROC.

Our staff in ROC, working with government officials, now put the number of new refugees at 21,800, mainly ethnic Munzayas, who began fleeing into the country last Wednesday. Now sheltering in villages between the districts of Betou and Impfondo in the northern Republic of Congo, they told our staff they were fleeing Enyele tribesmen who, they said, had gone from house to house, pillaging, raping and killing mostly Munzaya civilians in Dongo and surrounding villages, which are now virtually empty. The root of the violence, they said, was a dispute over farming and fishing rights.

Seventy percent of the refugees are women and children. Over the weekend, UNHCR began giving them blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, kitchen sets and jerry cans.

More than 20 of the refugees arrived in ROC with gunshot wounds. UNHCR transferred nine of the severely injured to Impfondo hospital, including an 11- year-old girl who had her right leg amputated. A UNHCR-funded mobile clinic is continuing to go from village to village to provide basic healthcare to refugees who are far from the Betou and Impfondo district health centres. The governments of the two Congos have also provided medicine to the health centres.

Refugees have mostly stopped crossing the border amid reports that the DRC military forcefully intervened in Dongo to stop attacks by armed Enyele, who appeared to have organized into a militia. In spite of this government action, on Monday our colleagues in the Republic of Congo could still see smoke from burning houses across the river. While some of the new arrivals told us they would like to go back to their villages once the Enyele militia is crushed, others felt too traumatized and told UNHCR that they were not ready to go back.

The first clashes between the Enyele and Munzaya took place March 2009, when more than 200 houses were burned in the village of Munzaya and more than 1,200 residents fled to safety in the Republic of Congo.