UN: Latest DRC fighting displaces 33 000 people

The latest clashes in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have driven 33 000 more people from villages in Nord-Kivu province and a cholera outbreak is suspected, United Nations agencies reported on Wednesday.

About 25 000 people have been uprooted in the rugged Rutshuru highlands about 50km north of the provincial capital, Goma and 8 000 others have fled over the border into Uganda, UN officials estimated.

However, the battlefronts have calmed down and relief agencies plan to try to distribute drinking water on Thursday to people in the Rutshuru area, Louis Vigneault, the Goma spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said.

Relief work on the Ugandan side of the border has started and the local authorities and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urged displaced people to gather at the Nyakabanda centre, 15km from the border, the UNHCR said in a statement.

At Bunagana, a settlement on the border, officials had noted two cases of suspected cholera, a fast-spreading water-borne disease, leading the UNHCR to urge people to move out of the zone to the ”transit centre with adequate health facilities”.

UNHCR workers and Médécins Sans Frontières (MSF — Doctors without Borders) at Nyakabanda have finished building ”seven collective shelters for 1 500 people”.

MSF staff were vaccinating children under five and the UN Children’s Fund provided two 10 000-litre fresh-water tanks.

The fighting pits the regular army against renegade troops loyal to a dissident ex-general, Laurent Nkunda, who has set himself as a warlord in tracts of Nord-Kivu and claims to be protecting the minority Tutsi population.

Nkunda’s men also fight Rwandan Hutu rebels, while the army has sometimes battled them and sometimes used them. Tribal Mai-Mai militia forces are also involved around Bunagana.

The UNHCR spokesperson in the DRC, Jans Hesemann, said ”many refugees hesitate about going to the transit centre [in Uganda]. They want to stay near the border to be able to go home if they can.”

Simultaneously, however, people in the Bunagana area had taken clothes, food and cooking tools with other possessions, indicating that ”many of them fear it will be exile for some time”.

Home to previous rebellions that plunged DRC into war in the 1990s and the hub of months of recent unrest, Nord-Kivu became the theatre of a bloody and confusing new round of clashes in August.

About 370 000 civilians have been uprooted from the area since 2006.

President Joseph Kabila and Nkunda are under foreign pressure, led by the United States, to reach a political settlement. — AFP



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