KINSHASA, 9 Feb 2006 (IRIN) - At least 55,000 people have been displaced in North and South Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as a result of fighting between the army and armed groups, according to humanitarian agencies.
"Since fighting started on the 20th of January in the territory of Rutshuru [North Kivu], tens of thousands of people have fled," Medecines Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in a statement issued on Wednesday.
It said most of the displaced were from the Kibirizi area, northwest of Rutshuru, "where people have been beaten, raped and looted".
MSF said at least 40,000 people had reached the towns of Kanyabayonga, Kayna and Kirumba in the North Kivu territory of Lubero.
MSF said its teams were caring for residents in Kanyabayonga. However, with the arrival of 25,000 people fleeing the fighting, MSF said the town had become overcrowded, with two of three households hosting displaced families. It said they had received reports that many other displaced were unable to reach Kanyabayonga because of insecurity or they were took weak.
"Many others still remain in the bush around Kibirizi, subject to violence and looting," MSF said.
In South Kivu, fighting between the army and the Rwandan Hutu Forces democratique de liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) in Burhyni, Mwenga Territory, has displaced nearly 15,000 people, according to humanitarian workers.
The deputy chief of staff of the UN Mission in the DRC, Col Christian Bergeron, confirmed on Wednesday that the displacement was due to an ongoing military operation by the Congolese army against the FDLR.
Jean-Marc Cordaro, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in South Kivu's capital, Bukavu, said of the 15,500 displaced in the province, close to 12,500 people were in Burhyni, 95 km southwest of Bukavu.
"More displaced continue to arrive from Mwenga where 600 families have reached Bukavu," Cordaro added.
OCHA said the displaced were arriving exhausted and without belongings.
Having only learned of the situation in South Kivu only a week ago, humanitarian actors have begun relief operations for those arriving in Bukavu.
MONUC has reported rape and the destruction of schools and health centres in areas through which the Congolese army has passed.
"We are afraid to expose the displaced to looting either from the 10th Military Region of FARDC or the FDLR," Cordaro said.
Most of the FDLR rebels fled Rwanda following the 1994 genocide, for which they have largely been blamed. According to the Rwandan government, some 937,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were killed during the genocide.
The rebels, most of them Hutus, formed the FDLR in 1998 and the Congolese government initially used them to fight the Rwandan army, which withdrew from the Congo in 2001. The DRC banned the FDLR in 2002 after it signed a peace deal with Rwanda.
Close to 8,000 FDLR fighters have been demobilised and returned to Rwanda under a MONUC voluntary repatriation scheme. The remaining FDLR elements in eastern Congo continue to fight the Congolese army, looting and raping civilians in the process.