KINSHASA, 31 July 2009 (IRIN) – The number of people fleeing fighting and reprisal attacks by Rwandan Hutu Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR) militia in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) South Kivu Province has increased by up to 600 percent in a few weeks, say humanitarian officials.
“We counted 9,330 displaced people in Uvira [territory in South Kivu] by the end of June. By 24 July, 56,300 people had been displaced,” said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), adding that even more internally displaced persons (IDPs) had been recorded in the past two weeks.
“This is as a result of [army] operation Kimia II on the Nyamutiri-Lemera axis.”
The Congolese army and the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) are jointly conducting an operation, Kimia II, to oust the FDLR and boost civilian security.
The FDLR, which comprises about 6,000 members, is blamed for increased insecurity in eastern DRC. Some of its members are alleged to have participated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Kimia II followed a similar operation in January, which involved the Rwandan army as well.
The humanitarian community has frequently expressed concern over the humanitarian consequences of the operations, which have led to an increase in militia exactions against civilians. MONUC has defended the action.
Many civilians, Laerke said, were deserting their villages and even fleeing health centres, fearing reprisals. “Even in Lemera, the General Hospital was abandoned by the sick,” he said.
In total, at least 538,880 IDPs have been registered in South Kivu, with numbers expected to rise as the exodus continues, according to humanitarian agencies.
|At least 538,880 IDPs have been registered in South Kivu, with numbers expected to rise|
The FDLR militia are also retaking their former strongholds.
“…The [Congolese army] is advancing on the ground but leaving behind a vacuum of power and thus the FDLR militia simply return to their former bases without fear,” said Madnodje Mounoubai, MONUC spokesperson.
“It is therefore imperative that the military’s progress is accompanied by the extension of state authority in the areas recovered from the FDLR.”
According to MONUC military spokesman, Lt. Col Jean-Paul Dietrich, the FDLR were withdrawing without major combat and adopting guerrilla tactics.
The rebels are also still attacking civilians in North and South Kivu provinces, where they burn houses and kill or take civilians hostage. Women and children have not been spared.
“Government troops [recently] freed 14 civilian hostages and a four-year-old boy who was being held by the Hutu rebels,” Dietrich said.
North Kivu displaced
According to OCHA, some 80,000 people were displaced in June alone in North Kivu, due to continuing clashes between armed groups, representing an 8 percent rise over May.
Thousands of IDPs need assistance but the insecurity has forced some aid agencies to suspend programmes.
“The humanitarian needs of the displaced are great: shelter, food, non-food items, water and sanitation, healthcare…” said OCHA’s Laerke.
“The different military operations have also resulted in a reduction in the humanitarian space.”