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Relief efforts blocked in northern Katanga as fighting continues

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NAIROBI, 6 Dec 2005 (IRIN) - The French charity, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) says that the army in northern Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has blocked relief workers from entering the area since beginning a military campaign against local militias there in mid-November.

"We think there are many people who need assistance," the coordinator of MSF's Emergency Team in the DRC, Laurence Sailly, told IRIN on Monday from Kinshasa.

However, MSF said as it could not get close to the front line it could not give a reliable estimate of the scale of the problem.

"We are asking for access so that we can assess the situation," Sailly said.

MSF reported on Friday that some 3,000 internally displaced persons fled fighting in their camp at Mazwombe in Mitwaba Territory.

In addition, thousands of people have fled their homes as the army moves north from the town of Kilwa.

"So far, over 2,000 newly displaced people have arrived in the towns of Dubie and Mutabie, after having walked for days, negotiating checkpoints and been subjected to arbitrary questioning by the military," MSF said.

"Since October 2004, more than 15,000 people have settled in makeshift displaced camps in and around the city [of Mitwaba]," MSF said.

Sailly said the fighting was between the army and one of the Mayi-Mayi militia groups in the area. She said she did not know which of the many Mayi-Mayi groups was involved.

The UN mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, does not have a presence in the area. Sailly said the only relief group operating there was a local NGO, Action Against Poverty; which did not have the capacity to access the humanitarian situation.

The Coordinator for the MSF operations in the Great Lakes region, Brice de le Vingne, said MSF had sent additional medical and non-medical supplies as well as staff to the region but "there is an acute lack of assistance for these populations, who are equally neglected by the aid community at large."

Public information officials at army headquarters in Kinshasa said they could not comment on operations in northern Katanga or on the army's policy on giving humanitarian workers access to the area.

Sailly said she did not know if the official policy was to block relief workers from entering the area.

"We just know that each time we try to go north from Kilwa the military tell us to turn around again," she said.


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