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Thousands of Children Displaced by Ethnic Violence in DRC’s Ituri Province

Mothers and children, refugees from from Democratic Republic of Congo, wait to be registered by UNHCR personnel, in Ntoroko, Uganda, Feb. 17, 2018.

The U.N. children’s fund reports at least 90,000 children have been forced to flee their homes in the face of escalating inter-communal violence in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri Province.

Ituri’s Djugu territory in northeastern D.R.C. has been the scene of recent carnage and displacement, with tens of thousands of people fleeing their homes in fear of their lives.

The U.N. children’s fund reports ethnic violence in this province has displaced an estimated 66,000 children internally and sent another 25,000 seeking refuge in neighboring Uganda.

Violent disputes between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups over cattle and grazing issues erupted in December, after lying relatively dormant over the past two decades. Conflict between the two groups intensified early this month with destructive force.

UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac says more than 70 villages have been burned down. He says more than 76 people have been shot dead, a majority women and children.

Boulierac says at least three health centers and seven schools have been pillaged and/or set on fire, depriving children of an education. He adds that education has been interrupted for some 30,000 children in more than 100 schools throughout the region.

UNICEF warns that thousands of children risk falling ill from diarrhea, cholera and other diseases because of exposure to bad weather, lack of food and safe water. The agency says it and other aid agencies are distributing blankets, soap, safe water and other essential relief to this needy population.

UNICEF is calling for a peaceful resolution to this conflict, noting an end to violence is the only way to protect children from the many dangers facing them.