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Ongoing Rebel Attacks in Eastern Congo Displace Tens of Thousands More Civilians

Ongoing rebel attacks in the eastern DRC continue to displace thousands of civilians. The HUTU rebel group the FDLR has been attacking towns and villages.

It's believed the attacks are in retaliation for a joint Congolese-Rwandan military offensive that was launched against the rebel group in January. Rwanda considers the FDLR a threat to its national security, since its members took part in the 1994 genocide.

UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic, in Geneva, says, "There are continuing attacks by the Hutu rebel group, the FDLR, and it's still causing displacement over a wide area of the North Kivu Province.… We had already reported earlier this month that basically since the end of the joint military operation the FDLR has been on a rampage and has…attacked the civilians, attacked the villages…including killing, looting, kidnapping and raping of civilians, also ambushing and burning vehicles," he says.

The most recent attacks have occurred in the Lubero territory, northeast of the provincial capital of Goma, displacing 30,000 people in the last two weeks.

"These newly displaced families in this area report that the FDLR raids increased during the first half of March and there are also numerous reports of human rights violations," he says.

Another rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has also been attacking towns and villages in the eastern DRC. Asked whether the FDLR attacks have increased since the joint military operation against them, Mahecic says, "We are witnessing a series of conflicts by the different parties and different militias in the eastern Congo for…more than two years. It has been growing more difficult by the day, (a) more dramatic situation. We are now basically at the point where there are almost a million displaced in the North Kivu Province alone. In the entire east of the DRC, there are 1.4 million displaced. So, the situation is not just the result of one particular minor conflict or a minor series of conflicts."

The UNHCR says "it's reinforcing its activities in Masisi and trying to establish a presence" in Lubero," which would allow it to distribute emergency supplies more quickly to the displaced.

Mahecic says, "In the Masisi area, we are running four camps.… These camps are basically the IDP (internally displaced persons) sites hosting people who had been displaced during earlier conflicts in the North Kivu. However, there is now more displacement there and also it's extremely difficult, at this point…to move around this territory because it's so volatile and insecure."

While the UNHCR operates IDP camps, many civilians have found shelter elsewhere, hoping to avoid further attacks. Mahecic says, "Many people are in the bush. Many people are looking for the safety in the bush, away from their homes and properties."

There are about dozen UNHCR IDP camps in North Kivu sheltering about 111,000 people. "But the overall displacement…is close to a million people. So, many families are sheltering themselves in numerous makeshift sites across the province. They are also sometimes with host families, with friends and relatives they have maybe in the area. Over the past months, also, almost 50,000 Congolese have crossed into Uganda and sought shelter there. So this is all a result of continued fighting in this area for more than two past years," he says.