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UNICEF: Situation in Congo's Conflict-Ridden Ituri Province Worsening

The United Nations Children's Fund reports the situation is worsening in the conflict-ridden province of Ituri in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. UNICEF says, in the last three days, the number of civilians fleeing fighting to UN-protected zones has risen from 50,000 to more than 80,000.

Renewed ethnic fighting between the Lendu and Hema tribes erupted last month in Congo's Ituri province. UNICEF says it seems the Lendu-majority is mainly targeting Hema civilians.

UNICEF Spokesman Damien Personnaz says the fighting, which began over land disputes, has gotten out of control because of lack of governance.

"Within this kind of anarchical system now prevailing within this province since three-to-five years, everything, which is linked to land, which means food, which means survival there, is ending up in major fighting," said Damien Personnaz.

UNICEF reports more than three million people, most of them civilians, are believed to have died in less than six years. It says many of these people have been killed in fighting, but many more have died of disease and starvation.

The U.N. children's agency says, during this recent spate of fighting, many villages have been systematically pillaged and burned. It says the number of cases of sexual violence is rapidly increasing. It says schools have been looted and burned.

Mr. Personnaz says about 80,000 people who have been displaced by the fighting have made their way to four camps protected by U.N. peacekeeping forces. He says thousands of other people who have fled their villages are hiding in the bush and jungle, and those who stay behind are vulnerable.

"The total government set-up is basically broken," he said. "You do not have education anymore. You do not have functioning electricity. Nobody has access to water. Nobody has access to sanitation. It is very hard to get food, because the land is becoming an issue, and it is very difficult, without any proper stability, to plant crops properly, and therefore to harvest. Therefore, they do not have sufficient food. So, the whole area is actually a total chaos because of the lack of governance."

Mr. Personnaz says people arriving at the U.N. sites are not in bad physical condition. But, he says they are heavily traumatized, and children, in particular, are likely to suffer from psychological problems for some time.