The presence of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels has led to deteriorating security conditions for aid workers and civilians in the northern Democratic Republic of Congo’s two Uelé districts, where 31 attacks took place in January alone – as many as in the last three months of 2010.
LRA fighters attacked Dungu, in Haut Uelé, a week before Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, visited the town on 10 March.
On 6 March, six World Food Programme (WFP) trucks were ambushed by a group of 30 men a few kilometers south of Banda, on the road to Ango, in Bas Uelé district. The vehicles were part of a 17-strong convoy. The attackers made off with sacks of flour and drivers’ personal effects.
A few days earlier, the village of Bambangana, in the same area, was the target of an attack in which several DRC soldiers were killed, one woman publicly immolated and a number of women raped.
“People here are so traumatized that they flee into the bush at the slightest alarm,” said Marine Jarney, who works with Solidarité Internationale, an NGO that assists displaced people (IDPs) in Dungu. "Such is the fear of the LRA, a group notorious for its brutality, that even those staying in the better protected camps take flight when rumours spread of an imminent attack."
Dungu is now temporary home to 56 percent of the 293,400 IDPs in Haut and Bas Uelé.
“These people, who have seen rapes, killings, and children abducted, are so scared they no longer dare go to their fields. It’s very hard to make up when a harvest is missed,” WFP representative in DRC, Abdou Dieng, told IRIN.
Most of the Uelé attacks are attributed to the LRA, a rebel group originating in northern Uganda but whose few hundred fighters are now scattered across northern DRC, South Sudan and the east of Central African Republic.
Since they moved into northern DRC in 2007, they are reported to have killed more than 2,000 people and abducted 3,000, half of them under 18.
There have been calls from some quarters to beef up the presence of the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, MONUSCU, and for escorts to be provided to humanitarian convoys. Some NGOs are averse to having their work militarized with armed escorts and would prefer to see key main roads made safer.
“There is a serious funding gap for civilian and humanitarian protection,” said Emad Aziz, who heads the UN Refugee Agency’s operations in Dungu and fears conditions will worsen further in the event of unrest across the border in South Sudan, where there are many refugees from DRC.
“One should be realistic and reasonable, since MONUSCU’s capabilities are limited,” said UN Humanitarian Coordinator in DRC Fidèle Sarassoro.
Aid workers told Amos that DRC government troops were also guilty of frequent human rights abuses. One attributed a third of the violations in the Uelés to such soldiers.
Several sources said Mbororo pastoralists, about 2,000 of whom regularly bring their large cattle herds into the region in search of pasture, were particularly targeted by armed groups. They are also unpopular with indigenous populations who accuse them of destroying their crops.
In early January, police and soldiers evicted some 300 Mbororos from where they had settled near the town of Niangara. An Mbororo delegation made an official complaint, claiming soldiers had raped 30 of their women.
Unconfirmed reports from aid workers suggest some among the Mbororo have joined up with LRA units, and that this could explain the escalation of attacks in the area.