Sixty thousand flee in DRC after army offensive

More than 60 000 people have fled their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s southeastern province of Katanga after an offensive by government troops, aid workers and church sources said on Wednesday.

The bishop of Kilwa-Kasenga, whose diocese includes Dubie where the displaced people have sought refuge, has alerted authorities to an “influx of people displaced by conflict”.

It follows an attack by the Congolese armed forces against local traditional warriors known as Mai-Mai and their tribal leader, Gedeon, Bishop Fulgence Muteba said.

“Before this last attack, Dubie was already sheltering 16 000 displaced people living in precarious conditions,” the bishop wrote in a statement.

“The displaced who arrive at Dubie show signs of chronic malnutrition and psychic trauma,” he added.

Some have sought refuge in the openair church courtyard while others are in school rooms before being sent to a makeshift camp.

“For the moment they are not receiving any humanitarian assistance,” the bishop said.

Several humanitarian agencies including the Red Cross and Médécins Sans Frontières confirmed a large influx of displaced, saying their number may exceed 60 000.

Aid groups are examining the possibility of sending emergency aid into Dubie, hampered by difficult access and poor security.

On Monday, DRC Vice-President for Defence and Security Azarias Ruberwa said during a visit to Lubumbashi that the government would do “everything to pacify the Nord-Katanga within a month”.

Since November 13, several thousand Congolese troops have been deployed in the Dubie region, about 450km north of Lubumbashi, the main town in Katanga.

The government offensive aims to reestablish the state’s authority in the region, where the independent electoral commission says there are problems sending electoral materials ahead of a constitutional referendum scheduled for December 18.

A nebulous yet pivotal collection of tribal militias and local defence forces, the Mai-Mai have fought on both sides of the two back-to-back rebellions that swept the DRC for six years. - Sapa-AFP