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UN Says Atrocities Increasing in Eastern Congo


The U.N. refugee agency is urging all armed parties in North Kivu province to stop the widespread pillaging and atrocities that are leading to a humanitarian disaster in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UNHCR says the situation in this part of the country continues to deteriorate. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

The U.N. refugee agency is calling for an immediate halt to direct attacks on civilians as well as atrocities, including burning of villages, widespread pillaging and raping of women.

UNHCR spokeswoman, Jennifer Pagonis, says North Kivu is facing the worst displacement situation in three years because of the escalating violence. She says 163,000 people have been displaced since January. This brings the total of internally displaced people in the province to 650,000.

"We are very concerned about the spiraling displacement and atrocities in eastern DRC, particularly with the build-up of military forces, the situation there risks turning into a humanitarian and human rights disaster," said Pagonis. "And we are concerned that fresh military operations by renegade brigades, militia groups or government forces will result in greater suffering for the civilian population without leading to more stability."

On Friday, the UNHCR and the U.N. Children's Fund began distributing relief supplies to more than 10,000 internally displaced people in the Buganga area of the province.

Pagonis says people receiving the aid fled fighting in May. They are now living with host families. She says humanitarian agencies are finding it difficult to access the sites because of the worsening security situation.

"We are indeed in touch with the U.N. peacekeeping forces and when we realize that particularly some IDP [internally displaced persons] sites are in danger, they deploy mobile units to them," said Pagonis. "But, it is a very dangerous area for humanitarian agencies to be operating. I do not think we have access to all the areas all of the time, and we work as we can. But it certainly is a major problem area."

Pagonis says host families are running out of resources to support themselves, let alone their homeless guests. As a result, more displaced people are living in hastily established camps.

She says the number of camp sites has expanded to nine. This, she says, is leaving people more exposed to disease and violence as the militarization of the area continues. She says the UNHCR has sent camp management experts to North Kivu to help improve living conditions.

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