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UNHCR: DRC Violence Displaces Thousands

  • Gabe Joselow

Internally displaced Congolese carry their belongings as they flee to safety, fearing renewed clashes between government forces and rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, May 21, 2012.

NAIROBI - The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says it needs more security to help thousands of people displaced by recent violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

UNHCR says a battle between the Congolese armed forces and a group of renegade soldiers has displaced thousands of people in recent weeks.

The agency says at least 12,000 people registered as internally displaced people in North Kivu province last week. Most of the displaced are living with other families or inside school buildings.

Additionally, UNHCR says at least 7,000 people have fled to neighboring Uganda, while another 9,000 have fled to Rwanda since the end of April.

The UNHCR spokesman in East Congo, Simplice Kpandji, said the violence is making it difficult to reach those in need.

"The situation is quite dangerous and we are monitoring the situation with the government and the authorities to help us get access to the people and to assess their real needs," said Kpandji.

A UNHCR worker was shot and killed in his home Friday in the provincial capital of Goma. The agency says authorities are investigating the circumstances of the attack.

Kpandji said staff at UNHCR were deeply affected by the killing. He said the government should do more to protect humanitarian workers and to establish peace.

"We need more support in terms of protection, first of all. Because we need protection to go to work in this area and mostly in North Kivu, its very difficult," he said.

The violence began last month when a group of Congolese soldiers formerly aligned with a Rwandan-backed rebel group known as the CNDP defected from the military.

The mutineers, now known as M23, were integrated into the army in a 2009 peace deal. But indications the Congolese government was going to arrest their commander, Bosco Ntaganda, on an International Criminal Court warrant prompted the rebellion.

Congolese forces have driven the soldiers out of the Masisi area of North Kivu that had been their stronghold. Ntaganda and a small group of soldiers are believed to now be hiding out in the Virunga National Park, which borders Rwanda and Uganda.