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UNICEF Rushes Emergency Aid to Victims of Recent DRC Massacre - 2003-05-13


The U.N. children's agency is rushing emergency supplies to victims of the recent massacre and other fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

UNICEF says it fears hundreds of thousands of people, mainly women and children, are suffering from the violence in Bunia, in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo along the border with Uganda. Agency spokesman, Damien Personnaz, said these people desperately need food and medical assistance.

"We are trying to reach about 170,000 people who are stranded. They just cannot go outside. They are very much hostages of the situation," he said. "There is a lot of looting, a lot of massacres which have been taking place especially last weekend, so the people are scared really to go out. What we know from the United Nations, from our office there, is that the critical needs of medicines and basic supplies are very much needed in hospitals because they are running out of medicines and they have been looted.

Mr. Personnaz said UNICEF has sent essential drug kits as well as water storage containers and purification products to the area. He said these items are vital to setting up an emergency hospital to treat the injured. He added that use of unclean water in the area could result in epidemics of diseases like cholera, which struck last September.

"A situation that is even worse is the fact that the water treatment plant in Bunia is not functioning properly. It is only functioning for 10 percent of the population. And this will lead to a lot of waterborne diseases," he said.

UNICEF said it is working with other relief agencies to dispatch needed items. It said that fighting between Hema and Lendu tribes broke out in Bunia last Wednesday, the day after the last Ugandan soldiers withdrew from the area.

The U.N. children's agency reports that about 30 people, including infants, were killed over the weekend. It says up to 50,000 people have been killed and 500,000 have fled mainly to Uganda in recent months.