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More children drafted by armed groups in eastern DR Congo, UNICEF finds

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UN News - December 2, 2008

Children in eastern Congo
Children continue to be enlisted by armed groups in the war-ravaged eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the United Nations reported today.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said at least five youngsters were recently drafted in the town of Kitshanga in North Kivu province, where fighting has recently flared between the Government army, the Congress in Defence of the People (CNDP) led by rebel general Laurent Nkunda, and the Mayi Mayi militia.

UNICEF also expressed concerns that the majority of schools in the Rutshuru area remained closed to some 150,000 students despite promises by Mr. Nkunda’s rebels to reopen them. It called for all armed groups to create a safe environment for children to resume their education.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency today continued the voluntary transfer of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the precarious Kibati camps on the northern outskirts of Goma, North Kivu’s capital, to four existing camps away from the frontline to the west of the city.

“Our efforts had to be suspended on Sunday afternoon due to shooting, which also continued through the night,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva. “Altogether, four IDPs were wounded and taken to a local hospital.”

Fighting in North Kivu intensified at the end of 2006. By January 2008, it had brought the total number of IDPs in the region to more than 800,000. Since fighting resumed in August, some 250,000 civilians have fled, many of them previously displaced.

Some 65,000 Congolese civilians in the two Kibati camps are in a precarious situation as the warring parties remain in close proximity. “We fear that the civilian population could be caught in the crossfire should the fighting resume in this area,” Mr. Redmond said.

Today’s transfer is scheduled to take 140 vulnerable families (500 people) from the Kibati I camp to the Mugunga I camp. By the time of Sunday’s suspension, more than 140 families had already been relocated to Mugunga I. Further transfers will target IDPs currently sheltered in school blocks and portable tent warehouses that UNHCR has made available at Kibati.

Five truckloads of aid items from UNHCR’s regional emergency stockpile in Ngara, Tanzania, arrived in Goma over the weekend with 30,000 blankets, 15,000 sleeping mats and 4,160 kitchen sets.

Meanwhile, local UNHCR partners in Kanyabayonga, 150 kilometres north of Goma, said 40,000 IDPs have managed to return home – or about 80 per cent of those estimated to have been uprooted there over the past weeks. Many returning families are finding their home looted or destroyed.

Reports suggest that fighting further up north around Ishasha has abated after the visit there of the UN Special Envoy, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. Fighting around Ishasha, a town on the DRC-Uganda border, began on 22 November, forcing at least 13,000 Congolese to seek refuge in Uganda during the past week alone. The flow has now stopped.


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