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UN Preparing for Influx of Congolese Refugees

The U.N. refugee agency says it is preparing for a possible new influx of refugees heading to Southern Sudan because of the joint military action recently taken against the Lord's Resistance Army by Congolese, Ugandan, and Southern Sudanese forces.

The military operation to flush out the Lord's Resistance Army from camps in the remote Garamba National Park in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo began Sunday.

Increased fighting puts local population in state of panic

The U.N. refugee agency reports the local population is in a state of panic. Spokesman, Ron Redmond says civilians fleeing the fighting reportedly are crossing the border into Sudan.

He says a UNHCR team based in Yambio in West Equatoria, Sudan, close to the DRC border, is unable to reach the area because of the security situation. Therefore, he says the agency does not know how many people are fleeing nor what their condition may be.

"Thousands of Congolese refugees fled to that area starting in mid-September after ferocious attacks by the LRA [Lord's Resistance Army] in the Dungu area," said Redmond. "Refugees reported at the time that many of their family members and friends had been abducted, killed and raped during the LRA attacks."

"That September group of refugees, about 5,000 in all, was temporarily settled in nine sites around Yambio. UNHCR and its partners have been providing them with assistance," he added.

UNHCR to relocate refugees

Redmond says the UNHCR is planning to start relocating many of these refugees to a site further inland. He says about 700 are scheduled to be relocated from Sakure. This group will be followed by at least 3,000 more in coming days.

He says the operation to move the Congolese refugees is proving difficult because of the remoteness of the area. Also, many roads are impassible due to heavy rains.

The LRA, an indigenous Ugandan group, has been trying to overthrow the Ugandan government for the past two decades. During that time, nearly two million people in northern Uganda have been displaced.

The LRA has abducted more than 10,000 children. They have been forced to become child soldiers, laborers or sex slaves.

Peace talks between the LRA and Ugandan government have broken down. Since the rebels moved their headquarters from southern Sudan to Orientale Province in DRC, they have terrorized the local communities. More than 70,000 civilians have become internally displaced.