The United Nations refugee agency reported thousands of people have fled from recent attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Orientale province. The UNHCR said these displacements are particularly worrying as they come after a lull in LRA attacks in the second half of last year.
The U.N. refugee agency said these renewed attacks are causing panic among the civilian population, which has been living under relatively secure conditions for several months. It said the Lord’s Resistance Army has been targeting the territories of Dungu and other areas in the DRC’s Orientale province.
UNHCR spokeswoman Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba said the most recent attacks took place in the village of Bagulupa, 55 kilometers east of Dungu. “There have been 20 attacks since the beginning of this year. One person was killed and 17 abducted during these incidents," Lejeune-Kaba said.
"Abducted civilians are often used as porters, while the LRA has forced young women into sexual slavery…According to information gathered by our staff, most newly displaced were already displaced by previous LRA attacks," Lejeune-Kaba added. "Other civilians could be displaced in areas that humanitarian agencies cannot reach due to insecurity and poor road access.”
Lejeune-Kaba said the newly displaced are living under harsh conditions. She said they are sleeping in makeshift settlements in and around Dungu. They lack clean drinking water and basic sanitation facilities. She said the situation of those who have fled to remote areas is worse.
In early January, the United Nations and the Central African countries affected by the LRA agreed to toughen measures against the group to stop their deadly attacks. The governments of the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda and the DRC agreed to allow their troops to cross borders without hindrance if they were pursuing LRA forces.
Despite these and other efforts to control the rebels, Lejeune-Kaba said security remains impossible for people because the attacks are unpredictable. “The LRA is notorious for targeting people in the most remote areas," Lejeune-Kaba said.
"So, it takes a long time before you even find out that there have been such attacks. In this case, actually, compared to previous attacks, it took about two weeks for us to find out," Lejeune-Kaba said. "That is because the attacks took place not too far from Dungu and people came to Dungu, which is a main town in Huele district and where we have a presence along with other humanitarians.”
Lejeune-Kaba said the UNHCR has distributed basic emergency items, such as plastic sheeting, sleeping mats and kitchen sets to some 200 newly displaced. She said the World Food Program is providing food and private agencies medical care. But she noted more aid is needed.
Since 2008, LRA attacks have displaced an estimated 320,000 people in Orientale province. During the same period, 30,000 Congolese refugees have fled to the Central African Republic and South Sudan.