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DRC's Tanganyika Province Faces Humanitarian Disaster

FILE - A woman holds her child at a makeshift camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) among old abandoned buildings in Kalemie, Tanganyika province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sept. 18, 2017.

The U.N. refugee agency warns fierce ethnic clashes and widespread abuse in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Tanganyika Province is propelling the region toward a colossal humanitarian disaster.

The U.N. refugee agency reports escalating violence among the Twa, the Luba and other ethnic groups has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing for their lives. The agency reports more than 630,000 people or more than one-fifth of Tanganyika’s population of three million is now internally displaced.

The UNHCR says it is alarmed at the spiraling atrocities throughout the province. Spokesman Andre Mahecic says a majority of violations concern property rights, including extortions, plundering and destruction. But he notes thousands of other cases of abuse include torture, murders, arbitrary arrests, forced labor, rape and forced marriages.

He says the displaced are most victimized by atrocities triggered by the ethnic conflict. But, Mahecic tells VOA they also suffer abuse from renegade militias and the Congolese soldiers sent to fight them.

“The militias seem to be sort of ad hoc formations that gather for the sake of some joint interest in pillaging, raping, stealing ...The lion’s share of these violations that I spoke about do concern the reported cases of extortion or illegal taxations," said Mahecic. "This is mostly happening at the road blocks ... We do not have all of the details. But it is important to note that the lion’s share of issues has been attributed to the conduct of the armed forces.”

The UNHCR is calling on the Congolese authorities to protect the civilian population and to prosecute soldiers accused of human rights abuse and other crimes.

The agency says it is doing its best to help the population cope with this increasingly calamitous situation, but it is being hampered by a serious shortage of money.

Last year, the UNHCR says it received less than $1 per person to run its program for the DRC’s 4.5 million internally displaced people. It says it hopes to get a better response to this year’s $369 million country appeal. Of this amount, it says $80 million is needed to support the displaced.