Displaced Congolese flee fresh fighting near Goma
GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, November 13 (UNHCR) - Tens of thousands of previously uprooted Congolese were on the run again Tuesday following the latest confrontation between government forces and suspected renegade troops in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The displaced were from major camps near the town of Goma in DRC's volatile North Kivu province, according to a UNHCR press release, which cited staff of the refugee agency as saying that panic spread among the displaced even though the camps were apparently not directly targeted.
"There is an attack and we have to leave," a frightened internally displaced Congolese was quoted as telling a UNHCR field safety adviser in the area.
At least 28,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) out of some 38,000 sheltered at Mugunga I, Mugunga II and Lac Vert have left the three sites following Tuesday's dawn skirmishes in surrounding hills. Sporadic gunfire and mortar rounds could still be heard in the area Tuesday morning. In addition, about 2,000 people have fled from Bulengo, which hosts some 10,000 IDPs.
The UNHCR press release said the situation was dramatic and critical as tens of thousands of IDPs from the camps, mixed with local people who are also fleeing the fighting, jam roads leading to Goma under torrential rains. Some of them were arriving at Buhimba, an IDP site near Goma set up early October.
"The main road toward Sake was crowded with people; we had difficulties getting through," UNHCR field safety adviser, Pierre Nazroo, was quoted as saying. "Internally displaced people are moving from site to site - direction Goma."
According to initial reports, the IDPs have taken their belongings and some of the aid they received at the camps with them. Some of the sites were reportedly pillaged after the IDPs left. Few of the plastic sheets distributed by UNHCR last week could still be seen covering makeshift huts in the camps.
"UNHCR teams, together with other UN agencies, are presently trying to assess the new situation and immediate needs, including shelter, food and protection," said the press release.
Continued fighting in North Kivu province between government forces, renegade troops and rebels since December 2006 has led to the worst internal displacement in the area since the end of the civil war in 2004. Some 375,000 Congolese have been forced to leave their homes in the province, including more than 160,000 in the last two months alone.
UNHCR called on "all parties to refrain from attacks on internally displaced people and civilians, and to find a negotiated solution for the prolonged violence that continues to plague North Kivu and its population."
"With sharpening inter-ethnic divides and a continuous build-up of military forces, UNHCR remains deeply concerned about the risks of severe human rights abuses and violence against civilians," the refugee agency added.