KINSHASA, 3 Feb 2006 (IRIN) - At least 37,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are without humanitarian relief because of continued attacks by military insurgents in North Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), officials said.
"There seems to be a relative cessation of hostilities, but tensions are so high in the area that it is very difficult for us to access these populations for intervention," said Ibrahima Diarra, the head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the North Kivu town of Beni, on Thursday.
Attacks by military insurgents on loyalist Congolese army troops have been ongoing in the province since 17 January. The latest wave of attacks - on 28 and 29 January in Rutshuru territory, to the east of the province - displaced about 2,200 civilians.
According to OCHA, the 2,220 IDPS are in the main centre of Goma, the provincial capital, while the remaining 35,000 are in localities further north such as Kanyabayonga, Kahina, Kirumba and Lubero.
"In Goma, 50 percent of the displaced who arrived on Tuesday are being hosted by local villagers, 25 percent took shelter in a church, and the remaining 25 percent are in a transit site where World Vision and UNICEF [UN Children's Fund] have intervened, mainly with the supply of drinking water," said Patrick Lavand'homme, head of OCHA in Goma, on Thursday.
He said humanitarian partners had evaluated the food and non-food needs for the IDPs in Goma.
Diarra said a UN interagency mission scheduled for 23-25 January to prepare for a full-scale humanitarian intervention in the area had been cancelled due to renewed attacks by insurgents belonging to the 5th Brigade of the Congolese army.
According to OCHA, some of the IDPs had started returning to Rutshuru during two days of calm preceding the attacks, but renewed fighting had pushed them back.
Loyalist elements of the 5th Brigade responded to the attacks with the help of helicopters from the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) and drove out the insurgents from the villages they had captured in Rutshuru.
However, another group of insurgents - said to be close to renegade Congolese general Laurent Nkunda, against whom an international arrest warrant has been issued - launched a new attack in the Rwindi territory near Rutshuru and Kirumba this week, creating panic and preventing the return of the IDPs.
A recent visit by Congolese Defence Minister Adolphe Onusumba to the province had not led to a resolution of the problem between the insurgents and the loyalist Congolese troops.
Haile Menkerios, the deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, has also visited North Kivu in the recent past and held talks with the local authorities, community leaders, civil society representatives and religious leaders.
MONUC reported that during these discussions there were indications that the cause of the attacks lay in the difficulties integrating former rival rebel movements into the Congolese army and a lack of trust between the various communities of North Kivu.
Civil war in DRC was officially declared to have ended in 2003, and the transitional government has been integrating members of former rival rebel movements into the national army. However, fighting - mostly by militias and lately by military insurgents - has continued in eastern Congo, primarily in the Kivus and the northeastern province of Orientale.
Meanwhile, the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called upon the Congolese government and MONUC to arrest Nkunda, the leader of the insurgents.
"An arrest warrant was issued against Nkunda for war crimes, crimes against humanity and insurrection months ago, but the police and army have done nothing about arresting him," said Alison Des Forges, senior adviser to HRW's Africa division. "So long as Nkunda is at large, the civilian population remains at grave risk."