DR Congo: Refugees flee despite army advances

world | Dec 17, 2009 | By Spero News

The Congolese army (FARDC) has recaptured the town of Dongo, in the northwestern province of the equator, official sources from the government of Kinshasa claim. Since October, the Dongo area has been affected by violent inter-communal clashes between the Enyele and Munzaya tribes, over disputes concerning the rights of agricultural and fisheries, which also seems to be associated with an attempt to destabilize this area of the country.

According to the Congolese press among the rebels who had captured several towns in the area (who were self-appointed "Congolese Resistance Patriots”) are former soldiers of the Congolese army, deserters, and former members of the former Zairean army (the army of dictator Mobutu, who ruled the Congo, which he renamed Zaire, from 1965 to 1997), who have sought refuge in neighboring Congo Brazzaville.

The crisis in Dongo has led to an exodus of the civilian population, first due to the advance of the rebels and then due to the counter-attacks of the army.

According to government estimates, 84,000 refugees have arrived in DRC since the beginning of November, some new arrivals told the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that they had fled after learning that the militia Enyele - who had carried out an attack in late October, killing and wounding several people in the Dongo - were advancing towards the town of Gemena, 200 km north of Dongo. Other people came from the area where there is currently fighting underway or said they fled for fear of a counter-offensive by government forces. Among the latest arrivals, the staff of UNHCR has found people with fresh gunshot wounds and has recorded nine cases of rape, three of whom were underage girls.

Humanitarian agencies are facing major logistical obstacles since the entire refugee population is spread across an area of 500 square km along the banks of the River Oubangui. The refugees live in overcrowded conditions and the risks of contracting respiratory infections, diarrhea, and malaria are very high. With its local staff, the UNHCR has supported the creation of nine clinics around the places with the highest concentration of refugees, where there is a greater need for medicines and medical staff. There are also mobile medical centers for remote areas. Given the lack of clean water, the refugees have used the river water, with the consequent risks to health. The UNHCR is distributing tablets to purify water.

Humanitarian agencies have also installed 6 large water tanks with a total capacity of 60,000 liters near Betou in the northern Republic of Congo, where there are 55,000 new refugees. The massive presence of refugees also increases the pressure on local communities, where many refugees are housed, with the consequent breakdown of limited resources. It is estimated there have been 100,000 internally displaced people since the beginning of November.



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