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UN Says Deadly LRA Weekend Attacks  Imperil Northeastern Congo Population

A UN refugee agency team looking after victims of the latest Ugandan rebel strikes on two villages in Congo’s northeastern Orientale province is warning of dire conditions for thousands of newly displaced civilians. Napopo and Nagero are the latest villages allegedly raided by DRC-based Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels. The rebel show of force was staged in retaliation for a three-nation military mission launched jointly by Uganda, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo against the rebels on December 14. Since then, more than 500 Congolese have been killed in the violence. The rebels deny staging the raids and blame a Ugandan military offensive for the destruction. UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic says that the number of displaced has more than doubled, rising by 50-thousand in the past three weeks alone.

“We estimate that the joint operation overall of the Congolese, Sudanese, and Ugandan forces started on the 14th of December against the LRA – the LRA attacks have displaced some 50-thousand people. Now this is in addition to all of the 50-thousand people that have been displaced in the northeastern tip of the DRC bordering Sudan and Uganda. And the violence which took place there between September and November already displaced some 50-thousand people there,” he said.

Besides needing food, shelter, medicine, clothes and other aid, according to UNHCR estimates, some 225 Congolese, including 160 children, have been kidnapped by the rebels and more than 80 women raped. The UNHCR team that visited the remote region last weekend says many have been forced to flee into the bush, or have taken refuge with friends and relatives in neighboring towns. Spokesman Mahecic cautions that relief may be delayed in reaching its targets.

“This is an extremely difficult area to access, in particular because of the ongoing insecurity, but also because this is an extremely remote area with very few roads and very, very difficult to reach,” he noted.

As recently as Monday, UN personnel received word of eight deaths in the village of Napopo as houses were set ablaze. An LRA attack on Garamba National Park headquarters at Nagero occurred last Friday and left eighteen people dead, including two park rangers and two wives of wardens. Uganda’s New Vision newspaper reports that 10 LRA rebels have been killed during the past few days. Last weekend, the UN team visited Faradje, 100 kilometers west of the DRC-Congo-Sudan border, which was attacked on Christmas. More than 70 of the town’s residents were killed, and an estimated 37-thousand were forced to flee their homes. Since Sunday, victims of the Nagero attack have sought refuge in Faradje, even though that town lost more than 800 houses, three schools, government buildings and hospitals, which were burned and pillaged in late December. The UNHCR’s Andrej Mahecic says that the combination of last month’s fires and the latest refugee arrivals could signal the start of an extensive food emergency.

“A lot of the crop, the annual harvest of rice, was lost in the fire in Faradje. And so with the food, the shelter, the basic aid items, this population is in dire need of these things. And we are now looking with the authorities how the humanitarian assistance can be administered in these inaccessible and insecure areas,” he explained.