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UNHCR Says Rebels Abuse Civilians in Eastern DRC Camps

The UN refugee agency report rebel forces in North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to abuse and intimidate civilians sheltering in a makeshift site in the Rutshuru area. The UNHCR says the camp, which is near a U.N. peacekeeping base, holds some 10,000 internally displaced people.

The UN refugee agency is urging the rebel forces, who are loyal to renegade leader, Laurent Nkunda, to abide by humanitarian principles in the treatment of civilians. It says they should ensure the protection of the thousands of people who have been uprooted from their homes and are living in a makeshift site under difficult conditions.

So far, UN refugee spokesman, Ron Redmond, says his agency's appeal appears not to have been heard by the rebels. He says reports from the field indicate the rebels are continuing to pressure internally displaced people to go back to their original villages.

"Anywhere that UNHCR works, IDPs [internally displaced people] and refugees for that matter should not be intimidated," he said. "And, we oppose any attempt to force them to return against their wish. We were also concerned to learn of recent demands in which displaced people said they were being asked to provide lists of those who are at the site and to list their villages of origin. Others have reported that they have been arbitrarily detained and forced to work."

Laurent Nkunda's troops took control over Rushuru during clashes at the end of October. They claim the rebel controlled areas are safe for return. But, UNHCR spokesman Redmond says the IDPs tell aid workers they prefer to remain near the UN peacekeeping base for security.

They also say that remaining in the makeshift site allows them to stay close to their villages. He says some IDPs say they would prefer to be relocated to North Kivu's provincial capital Goma, while others say they would flee to Uganda if they could.

Redmond says the UNHCR and its partners are providing assistance to the makeshift camp. He says they are planning a mission there to assess the needs. This, he says, will be followed by distribution of food and other humanitarian assistance.

He says water supply and latrines remain a major concern.