15,000 refugees now fled Ituri fighting, UNHCR says

The number of people forced by fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to flee to Uganda has now reached 15,000, and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is trying to convince many of them to relocate farther inland, a UNHCR official said on Monday.

"We still have over five thousand in Nkondo at the shores of Lake Albert, but we have also established that farther south, on the shores of Lake Edward at Ishasa, there are ten thousand more of them," Roberta Russo, the UNHCR spokeswoman in Kampala, Uganda, said.

She told IRIN that the refugees, many of them women and children, were reluctant to move from Nkondo, a landing site on Lake Albert, to the refugee settlement of Kyaka II, without the consent of their husbands, who remained across the border.

Russo said 2,500 of the refugees at Nkondo had confirmed their willingness to move and 156 were moved on Saturday and Sunday, while a team has been sent to Ishasa to assess the means of transport needed to relocate the refugees to Kyaka II, on a journey of about 400 km.

The government has been carrying out security screening of all arrivals before they can be moved inland, where real humanitarian screening will then take place. UN agencies and other relief organisation have gone to the area to assess humanitarian needs, including water and sanitation.

The Ugandan military said on Friday that, three days earlier, between 5,000 and 7,000 people at Nkondo had started fleeing clashes between Mayi-Mayi militias and Congolese rebels in Ituri, a northeastern district of the DRC that has been a theatre of fighting in recent years.

[On the Net: DRC-UGANDA: Congolese refugees at risk of diseases, UNHCR official says]