Weekend attack prompts villagers to flee in northeast

Days after armed men, suspected to be Rwandan rebels, attacked villages in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), killing scores of people, civilians have fled their villages, aid workers said.

An assessment mission involving various United Nations agencies observed the movement of people from Kanyola towards Budodo and Walungu centre, said Kemal Saiki, spokesman for the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC).

"The displaced families spent the night in the Catholic parish of Kanyola, in the general hospital at Kanyola and in the neighbourhood [Lwashunga, Cisaza, Cizi, Cinduli, Nabishaka, Nakajaga]," he added. "They are with foster families and most of them would be in transit."

Aid agencies started providing some assistance to the affected civilians, especially children, who had been admitted to hospital.

Saiki, however, said the local population had blocked a MONUC team from reaching the villages where the attack took place. "They wanted to express their dissatisfaction but, even if this reaction is understandable, it is regrettable that the mission could not accomplish its work," he said.

Eighteen villagers died in the brutal attack, blamed on the Rwandan Front démocratique pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a group accused of involvement in the genocide that killed at least 800,000 Rwandans in 1994, and has since been active in the forests of eastern DRC.

In Kinshasa, MONUC condemned the massacres and appealed to the Congolese government to pursue and bring to justice those responsible for the atrocities.

"All the victims were killed in their sleep. These attacks were carried out in the greatest silence, with machetes, bayonets, knives and axes in order to avoid the use of firearms that would have revealed their presence," Saiki said.

The deputy special representative for the UN Secretary-General and humanitarian co-coordinator in the DRC, Ross Mountain, said the attack had created fear among civilians. "Since Sunday, terrified [civilians] go to the hills to cultivate or into the villages to get some of their belongings but rush into urban centres to spend the night with families or in community shelters," he said.

''All the victims were killed in their sleep. These attacks were carried out in the greatest silence, with machetes, bayonets, knives and axes in order to avoid the use of firearms''

Clashes between the FDLR and DRC army have occurred in South Kivu, displacing 260,000 people in the past six months. As a result, the humanitarian situation in North Kivu province, in particular, is deteriorating, according to aid agencies.

Eighty-five percent of MONUC's 17,000 peacekeepers and military observers are deployed in this volatile region.

Protest over violence

Meanwhile, members of the DRC national assembly from North and South Kivu announced a boycott of the House to protest against government's failure to contain the violence in the region.

"We cannot understand why the government proposes as the solution a round-table for the area while our people are being massacred," said a member from Uvira territory, Kanyegere Wa Boshi.

The boycott of North and South Kivu deputies took place when Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga was defending the 2007 annual budget.

There are 80 national deputies elected in these two provinces within the national assembly and about 50 of them have signed the petition to boycott the House.

"The government made porous our borders with Rwanda by opting to mix the integrated brigades with elements loyal to Gen Laurent Nkunda, under the pretext of securing these two provinces," said Justin Bitakwira, another South Kivu deputy. "The executive has abandoned these provinces to Nkunda, the Rwandan FDLR, Interahamwe and Rasta rebels."

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