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Renewed Atrocities Threaten IDPs in Eastern DRC

  • Lisa Schlein

A Ghanaian peacekeeper from United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) stands guard, April 12, 2010 (file photo).

A Ghanaian peacekeeper from United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) stands guard, April 12, 2010 (file photo).

The United Nations refugee agency says it is alarmed by reports of renewed atrocities committed against internally displaced Congolese. The UNHCR says it has reports of IDPs (internally displaced people) in camps of North Kivu province in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo having been killed and tortured by so-called armed elements.

The U.N. refugee agency says armed groups have been infiltrating IDP camps in North Kivu since the last quarter of 2011. It says this puts the civilian character of the camps at risk. And, most worryingly, says UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards, it puts the civilians sheltering in the camps at great risk.

"Displaced Congolese are constantly threatened by various groups and militias who accuse them of collaborating with one or another armed group," said Edwards. "On the 13th of December last year, seven displaced people were beaten to death because they had refused to take part in forced labor imposed by the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda. UNHCR has also received reports of IDPs being lashed and other forms of torture."

The Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) are composed of some Hutu commanders and others responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. An estimated 800,000 people, mainly ethnic Tutsis, were killed.

The FDLR has been attacking, killing, raping and pillaging villages in eastern Congo for nearly 18 years. The group is accused of forcefully recruiting children as soldiers and taking civilians hostage, and has caused tens of thousands of terrified civilians to flee their homes.

Nearly 79,000 displaced Congolese currently are living in 31 IDP camps in North Kivu. The UNHCR spokesman says the camps mainly affected by the recent attacks are in the Masisi territory, about 90 kilometers northwest of North Kivu's capital, Goma.

"Ongoing violence is also hindering humanitarian access to the camps and preventing aid workers from protecting and assisting the displaced," added Edwards. "Only eight IDP camps out of 31 are accessible to humanitarian workers without military escort. UNHCR calls on all parties to respect the civilian character of IDP camps in North Kivu. We are appealing to provincial authorities to increase security in and around the camps."

Edwards says only 40 police officers currently are providing security to six of the 31 camps in the province. He says the UNHCR is trying to get MONUSCO, the U.N. peacekeeping force to provide more security in areas most in need of protection. He says the U.N. forces are needed to ensure the safety of civilians living in the campsites.

He says many of the IDPs have no hope of going home in the near future. He says continued insecurity and renewed fighting between armed groups and the military in their villages make it too dangerous to return. He notes no returns were possible throughout the whole of last year.

The UNHCR reports more than 600,000 people are displaced in North Kivu. This is more than one-third of the 1.7 million forcibly uprooted people living across the DRC.