Fish war prompts thousands to flee

At least 16,000 civilians have fled deadly clashes in western Democratic Republic of Congo and are now languishing, many without food or shelter, in neighbouring Republic of Congo, according to the UN and local officials.



“These villagers fled interethnic fighting [in Dungu, Equateur Province] which has already claimed 47 lives and caused many injuries,” said Francesca Fontanini, a spokeswoman for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).



Equateur’s police chief, Col Joly Limengo, told IRIN that clashes had broken out last week between members of the Lobala and Boba communities over access to fishing ponds.



Those who fled are having problems with nutrition, medical supplies and shelter, according to Fontanini, citing the findings of an inter-agency mission made up of officials from UNHCR, other UN agencies, the Interior Ministry and local NGOs.



“Villagers are still crossing [the Ubangui river] to Republic of Congo. By yesterday [4 November], more than 16,000 had done so. Most did not take any provisions at all, or only very few. They are housed in municipal buildings or in the open. There is either no health centre, or insufficient medical supplies where they are,” she said.



Officials in Equateur Province said they had initiated dialogue between the warring inhabitants of the villages of Iyele and Muzala.



Government spokesman Lambert Mende said there was more to the unrest than an old dispute about fish.



“It’s an insurrection. A certain Edo Bokoto, who has been suspended from his post of sector chief, has mobilized about 10 men from his community to wanted to take control of these fish ponds which belong to people from these villages. They started to attack people from outside their community,” he said, adding that seven policemen who intervened in the fighting had been killed.



Equateur is the home province of erstwhile rebel leader and former vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba, now awaiting trial for alleged war crimes at the International Criminal Court.



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