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Ugandan Rebels in Congo Force Thousands to Flee


The U.N. refugee agency reports at least 5,000 refugees have fled to South Sudan from the Democratic Republic of Congo within the past two weeks. The refugees have told aid workers they were fiercely attacked by members of the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

The refugees have arrived in the Yambio area, in the Western Equatoria region of Southern Sudan. The U.N. refugee agency says three of its aid workers traveled from Juba to the area over the weekend to assess their needs.

The aid workers report about 150 Congolese are crossing daily from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the villages of Sakure and Gangura near Yambia.

The refugees have told the UNHCR team they fled their villages near Dungu, in northeastern DRC, because of ferocious attacks by members of the Lord's Resistance Army.

U.N. refugee spokesman, Ron Redmond, says refugees wounded during these attacks are being treated at clinics run by Doctors Without Borders.

"Our team spoke to several refugees who gave harrowing accounts of their flight. One refugee, for example, who had just arrived on a bicycle, said that his wife and daughter had been abducted. And, it took him a week to travel to Gangura because he had to evade LRA roadblocks and ambushes, which were obstacles cited by other refugees as well," said Redmond.

The Lord's Resistance Army has been waging a war against the Ugandan government for two decades. During that time, it has abducted tens of thousands of children and forced around two million people from their homes.

Peace negotiations between the rebels and the government in Kampala, which started a few years ago, have faltered. Since the LRA lost its base in southern Sudan, the group has shifted its activities to Congo, causing havoc among the population.

Local authorities in Yambio told the UNHCR team they are very concerned by the security situation in northeast Congo. They said children were abducted, houses burned and inhabitants endured a lot of violence.

UNHCR spokesman Redmond says aid workers plan to go back to Sakure and Gangura to continue interviewing refugees and start registering them. He says the agency is trying to organize a food distribution as soon as possible. But, it is facing problems as the roads in the area are in very poor condition.

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