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UNHCR Says Security Continues to Deteriorate in North Kivu, DRC

The U.N. refugee agency says it is greatly concerned about the rapidly deteriorating security situation in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It says some 160,000 people, who have been displaced since January, are at risk of attack from Hutu militia.

The joint military operation by the Congolese and Rwandan armed forces in North Kivu against the Hutu militia ended in February.

Since then, the U.N. refugee agency reports the militia group, known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda or FDLR, has returned to the north and central areas of the province.

U.N. refugee spokesman, Ron Redmond, says the militia has been attacking civilians and targeting humanitarian relief convoys and private aid agencies.

"Since the 17th of February, the U.N. has registered 17 incidents carried out by the FDLR," he said. "This includes killing, looting, kidnapping and raping of civilians, and the ambushing and burning of vehicles."

"Most of the attacks have occurred along main roads. According to our team in the field, over the past two weeks, the FDLR has killed 34 people, kidnapped four and injured 22 others. On the 26th, 27th February, they ambushed several relief convoys belonging to humanitarian agencies that provide assistance to Internally Displaced People," he added.

Redmond says the UNHCR is finding it increasingly difficult to reach the newly displaced people and assess their needs because of the upsurge in militia attacks. He notes a U.N. team that was on its way to the area on Thursday had to abandon its mission for security reasons.

He says the new displacement is putting additional strains on an already dramatic humanitarian situation in North Kivu. The United Nations reports some 850,000 people are homeless as a result of ongoing conflict in the region.

This number includes one-quarter of a million people who were forced to flee their homes since August. The U.N. says many of them have been displaced several times.