Thousands displaced as army attacks militias in northeast

Thousands of civilians are fleeing fighting that has been raging since Monday between the UN-backed Congolese army and local militias around the Semliki River in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)'s northeastern district of Ituri, an aid official said.

"The displaced people need food aid, shelter and medicine, particular those who did not have time to collect their belongings," said Modibo Traoré, the head of UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Bunia, capital of Ituri District.

He said 1,400 families had arrived at the town of Komanda, 75 km southwest of Bunia. Most are from the village of Mandibe, south of the Semliki River that separates Congo and Uganda.

Another 2,000 families have arrived farther south of Bunia in Kagaba, he said. Many of them are residents of Gety town where soldiers have launched an attack to regain positions they lost to militiamen on 11 November.

He also said that by Tuesday 160 displaced families had arrived in Bunia and some 120 families were camped in and around the villages of Marabo and Nyakunde, both some 40 km southwest of Bunia.

Another part of the population living around the Semliki River have fled across the border into Uganda, Deogratias Abengi-Rusoke, the chief of the community of Bahema Sud, which oversees that part of river, said on Thursday.

Traoré said it was difficult to send a humanitarian mission to the conflict zone. In June and July militiamen attacked vehicles of the UN Development Programme and a NGO specialising in the removal of antipersonnel landmines.

[DRC: 43 dead in latest drive against rebels]