The latest outbreak of fighting in the troubled South Kivu province in the far east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), pitting Government forces against Rwandan rebels, has forced 35,000 people from their homes, the United Nations refugee agency reported Friday.
The displaced are sheltering in the Ruzizi River plain, near the DRC’s borders with Rwanda and Burundi, after fleeing the latest military campaign, called Kimia II, which started on July 12, and seeks to disarm the notorious ethnic Hutu militia known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and their local allies.
This latest uprooting brings the total number of civilians displaced in South Kivu since the start of the year to some 536,000 people, according to Ron Redmond, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
More than 1.8 million people are now internally displaced in the DRC’s volatile east, he added.
The South Kivu towns of Lemera and Mulenge are said to be nearly empty, with almost 20,000 people believed to be hiding in the forests in the area.
Most of the IDPs are living with host families, with others seeking refuge in schools, churches and other buildings, but those in conflict areas remain almost completely inaccessible, UNHCR said.
“There are widespread reports from IDPs of atrocities including accusations of murder, rape and torture, on the part of FDLR rebels,” Mr. Redmond said, adding that those fleeing violence have reported arbitrary arrests, kidnappings, extortion and forced taxation by the FDLR and others.
Lack of access and insecurity has hampered assessments of the full scope of the latest displacement, he noted.
So far, UNHCR has tentatively pre-registered 20,000 people along the Luberizi-Kamanyola axis, along the DRC’s border with Burundi, and preliminary evaluations show that food, water, medical supplies and basic items such as blankets are needed.
“We are also monitoring the situation of those must vulnerable, identifying people at risk and with specific needs, including victims of sexual violence and arbitrary detention,” the agency’s spokesperson said.
UNHCR, he said, is also gravely concerned that the renewed violence in South Kivu could have negative repercussions on the agency’s repatriation scheme for Congolese refugees returning from neighbouring Tanzania.
Yesterday, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known in MONUC, deplored an FDLR attack in the country’s far east that has left at least 16 civilians dead.
Three members of the Congolese army (FARDC) and five FDLR rebels were also killed during the fighting, which began late last Monday night and lasted around seven hours.
The attack took place in the village of Hombo, which straddles the border between North Kivu and South Kivu provinces and is located about 120 kilometers west of the city of Bukavu. Both provinces have been wracked by violence in recent years.
“We condemn all attacks such as these,” Madnodje Mounoubai, a MONUC spokesperson, told the UN News Centre. “This is part of a pattern by the rebels where they try to terrorize the civilian population.”
Mr. Mounoubai, who said the FARDC captured nine FDLR members in the fighting, also warned that the death toll may rise further.