The UN refugee agency reports at least 125,000 people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have been forced to flee from villages attacked by the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army, in the last three weeks. This brings the number of people displaced in Haute Uele district of Orientale Province by the LRA since September to more than one-half million.
The U.N. refugee agency agrees that the displacement of 125,000 people in just three weeks is a staggering figure. Spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, says the number reflects the viciousness of the methods employed by the Lord's Resistance Army.
"The rebel group is accused of widespread killings, kidnappings of civilians and raping of women," said Mahecic. "During the same period, the rebels have reportedly killed some 1,270 people and abducted 655 children in the Orientale province. They have also destroyed hundreds of homes and pillaged health centers, schools and other public buildings."
The Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army has a long history of brutality. In its 20-year war with the Ugandan government, the LRA caused some two million people in the north to flee their homes. The rebel group abducted more than 10,000 children, using them as child soldiers and sex slaves.
Mahecic says most of the displaced are scattered around the different villages. He says they tend to gather around larger towns or in areas where there is a military presence and they feel a bit safer.
He says the UNHCR and other aid agencies have distributed relief items such as blankets, kitchen sets, mosquito nets and sleeping mats to 11,000 homeless people. But, he notes that aid is critically short of meeting the huge needs.
"Insecurity and impassable roads continue to hamper aid agencies' ability to access and assist the vast majority of the displaced," he said. "Moreover, as the number of IDP's increases, friction over the meager resources has erupted between the displaced and host families who have been stretched to the limit. Some of the host families have been hosting the displaced since September last when the LRA started the attacks in Haute Uele."
The UNHCR reports an estimated 8,000 Congolese have fled to neighboring South Sudan and the Central African Republic to escape LRA attacks. It says some 6,500 of these refugees are in southern Sudan's Western Equatoria region, where LRA attacks in Ezo forced U.N. staff to withdraw less than two weeks ago.