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Aid arrives for displaced thousands but fears over safety persist

IRIN | Published on February 16, 2006

KINSHASA, 16 Feb 2006 (IRIN) - Despite relief aid having reached some 6,000 war-displaced people in the northeastern district of Ituri in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), humanitarian officials are worried that tentative calm in the area could deteriorate.

The displaced are in Ituri's Aveba and Tcheyi areas, 70 km and 100 km south of Bunia, the district's main town. People fled their homes to escape fighting between the Congolese army and local militias. Ituri has been plagued by attacks by various militias for years.

The humanitarian affairs officer in the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Ituri, Traore Modibo, said on Tuesday that people were continuing to flee, fearing new Congolese army operations against the militias.

"Public announcements are made by the FARDC [Congolese army], asking people to leave Tcheyi because the regular army is about to launch a major attack and everyone could be mistaken for a militia," he said.

Modibo said local families were sheltering most of the displaced, while others had sought refuge in abandoned schools and hospitals. He added that there had been no reports of disease outbreaks among the displaced population, as humanitarian workers had established health and nutritional centres to serve them.

The spokeswoman in Bunia for the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), Jennifer Bakody, said the militias were among the 1,000 to 2,000 who had refused to join the government's disarmament and integration process.

The fighters are from different militia groups and have formed a new alliance, known as the Congolese Revolutionary Movement (CRM). Local sources said a militia leader known as Bwambale Vihito Kakolele leads CRM. The movement's goal is to gather members of all armed groups in the district and continue their resistance, "using all means possible against the government's injustice and frustration".

MONUC disarmed at least 16,500 militiamen in Ituri in 2005, and the Congolese government deployed three integrated army brigades to the district in December 2005 to launch operations to disarm the remaining militiamen.

The head of the liaison office of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Bunia, Massimo Nicoletti Altimari, said no fighting had been reported this week but people continued to flee. He said at least 6,000 displaced had sought refuge around MONUC's Pakistani peacekeeping contingent in Aveba.

"Continuous relief operations are needed in the near future in order to avoid a humanitarian disaster," Altimari said. "These people have been suffering too long and too much."

On 9 February, Bakody said, humanitarian workers had distributed 40 tonnes of food and non-food items to last the displaced one month.

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