Tens of thousands of civilians have fled their villages in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after 189 people were killed in attacks blamed on the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“The entire population of Faradje [80km from the Sudanese border], some 30,000 people, has left. Most have taken refuge in Tadu and Kpodo,” said Ivo Brandau, head of information for OCHA in the DRC, referring to villages 37km and 11km from Faradje respectively.
Brandau said there were concerns among humanitarian agencies that large numbers of other civilians would take flight for fear of new attacks.
The armies of the DRC, Uganda and Southern Sudan have been conducting joint military operations against the LRA in northeastern DRC since shortly after the rebel group’s leader, Joseph Kony, failed once again to show up in early December for a scheduled signing of a final peace accord.
Brandau said the region of Bangadi (200km west-north-west of Faradje) was particularly vulnerable because there was no military presence there.
Photo: Peter Martell/IRIN
|Congolese displaced in a past LRA attack in northeastern DRC. Some 189 people were killed in the latest LRA attacks blamed in the area|
An OCHA field mission said displaced people from Kiliwa and Paika had travelled to Masabe, 75km from the town of Dungu (about 120km west of Faradje).
“It’s not yet known exactly how many. Another group of around 180 households is said to be in Duru (about 150km west of Faradje). This area is considered to be at risk because of the presence of the LRA,” said Brandau.
Citing local authorities and residents, he said that in recent days 40 people had been killed in Faradje, 89 in Doruma (about 250km northwest of Faradje) and 60 in Gurga. “Villages and local officials are still looking for bodies.”
Prominent citizens killed
Several prominent Faradje citizens were killed in the attack, including a senior doctor, two pastors, a school inspector, a pharmacist, and the deputy head of the Directorate General of Migration.
Dungu Territory Administrator Leandres Bwilu told IRIN the Ugandan rebels had attacked several villages in the area, but declined to comment further.
About 20 children were abducted during the attack on Faradje, 120 houses were set on fire, and numerous buildings, including the hospital and the police barracks, were looted, according to residents cited by the OCHA field mission.
According to OCHA, the LRA is currently occupying seven villages around Doruma: Batande, Manzagala, Mabando, Bagbugu, Nakatilikpa,, Nagengwa and Natulugbu.
DRC army spokesman Col Leon-Richard Kasongo said air raids on LRA positions in Garamba National Park in northeastern DRC had dispersed the rebels both north towards Sudan and south into the DRC.
The military operations and the LRA presence make it very difficult for humanitarian agencies to operate, and some areas are currently totally inaccessible to aid workers.