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Aid Group Calls for Urgent Response to DRC Crisis


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Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders, better known by its French acronym MSF, says that the humanitarian response to the crisis in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo must be urgently stepped up. The group says hundreds of thousands of Congolese have been forced to flee as the conflict with a Ugandan rebel group spreads to new areas.

MSF officials say that the rebel Lord's Resistance Army - led by international fugitive Joseph Kony - has spread their attacks on civilians into previously less affected areas. They say many of their patients have now been forced to flee for the second or third time.

The group says that the reports they are receiving in their clinics on the ground suggest that the ongoing violence in the region against civilians originates both from the LRA and the Congolese and Ugandan forces pursuing the rebels, as well as from simple banditry.

Meinie Nicolai, director of operations for MSF, urges humanitarian groups to fully respond to the expanding crisis.

"We think that the aid response is not enough. There are not enough actors. There are some actors in certain towns, but it's definitely not covering the area. And in some of the towns we are alone. We are concentrating on medical care, but it's definitely not enough," said Nicolai.

She says the fleeing Congolese are also in dire need of food, clean water, and decent shelter.

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The aid group says that some towns in the region have become host to tens of thousands displaced Congolese yet are receiving little to no outside assistance. Nicolai notes that for families already suffering from intense poverty, hosting those forced from the countryside can prove an unbearable burden.

Ugandan and Congolese forces began a coordinated offensive against the LRA in late 2008. The LRA has since been on the move, seemingly breaking off into a number of smaller groups.

While Kony's exact location can not be confirmed, reports suggest he is on the move northward, currently in Sudanese territory. Roaming groups of his men have reportedly stayed behind in northeastern DRC, and a chunk of the group has moved into neighboring Central African Republic as well.

Both the Ugandan and southern Sudan militaries have stated they believe Kony is heading northward towards the Darfur region. Both have also recently insisted they think Kony might be heading eventually to Chad, a country on very icy relations with the Khartoum government.

Analysts increasingly believe that the Ugandan rebel group could be receiving direct support from Khartoum, a belief strengthened by the speculation about Kony's move northward. Khartoum built links to the group during Sudan's North-South civil war to help destabilize the southern region.

Some insist that, with a peace deal teetering, the North might be hoping to use Kony once again as a proxy to terrorize the southern Sudanese. Khartoum vehemently denies Kony receives any residual support from the Sudanese government, saying all links were cut years ago.

The DRC Kinshasa government responded critically to the claims by MSF, saying that the bulk of the fighting has now moved to southern CAR. The DRC minister of information Lambert Mende suggested that besides "a few peasants from some villages in the northern part of our country," most of the displaced were fleeing from the across the CAR-DRC border.

But MSF's Nicolai says that the group is simply reporting what it is hearing from its patients pouring in from the surrounding areas.

"We hear from our patients in the health centers stories of burned villages, abductions, rape," she said. "We get victims of rape. We hear stories about killings. That is what our patients tell us and what we also see in our health services," she added.

In her plea for urgent action from humanitarian groups, Nicolai reiterates that - while the region's isolation, poor roads, and insecurity do make doing work there difficult - the group has nevertheless been able to carry on its operations.

She says the group's staff has so far remained unharmed by the violence in the area.

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