FILE - Congolese children are seen at a makeshift camp for internally displaced people in Bunia, Ituri province, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, June 25, 2019.
FILE - Congolese children are seen at a makeshift camp for internally displaced people in Bunia, Ituri province, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, June 25, 2019.

GENEVA - The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR says it is alarmed by atrocities committed by armed groups against civilians in Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu provinces in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
   
The agency is reporting killings and kidnappings are continuing this year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s volatile North Kivu province. More than 2,000 killings of civilians were registered there last year and in the two other eastern provinces, most attributed to armed gangs.
 
UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch says many of the attacks have been against civilians in displacement camps, with many victimized by previous atrocities and forced to flee their homes.
    
“This is a heartbreaking situation for the civilian population and who are also displaced, and they have been displaced multiple times as well as running away from violence and now being attacked at displacement sites … It is a situation of chaos and mayhem for civilians in this part of DRC,” Baloch said.   
    
The UNHCR reports at least seven incursions by armed groups into five sites in North Kivu’s Masisi territory between December and January.
 
More than 88,000 civilians have fled to 22 sites supported by the UNHCR and International Organization for Migration. Others are living in makeshift settlements or with host families.
 
Baloch said displacement sites are in very remote areas, making inhabitants particularly vulnerable. He said armed incursions in these sites are part of a systematic tactic aimed at disrupting civilian life, stoking fear and creating havoc.

“Attacks by armed groups are carried out on suspicion of collaboration with other groups or the Congolese security forces.  Some of these sites are under threat from multiple armed groups. Civilians find themselves trapped in the middle of confrontations between these groups,” he said. 

Baloch added that the UNHCR has received reports of armed groups forcibly occupying schools and homes and attacking medical facilities in the town of Mweso, and Masisi and Lubero territories.
 
He said Congolese army operations against militia groups often are more successful than they have been in the past. Nevertheless, he said the armed forces cannot maintain control of the areas they secure, leaving an opening for armed groups to reclaim areas lost and extort the local population.