GOMA, 30 Dec 2004 (IRIN) - Few of the estimated 100,000 people displaced by fighting earlier this month in the province of North Kivu, east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), have received humanitarian aid.
"An aid convoy was sent on Wednesday to the towns of Kanyabayonga and Kayina," Horeb Bulambo, the spokesperson for Save the Children in Goma, told IRIN.
"But this is only the preliminary phase as we continue gathering data on the humanitarian need," he said.
Hundreds of peacekeepers in the UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, were deployed to the area to create a 10-km buffer zone to separate soldiers from two sections of the army that had been battling each other.
MONUC is in the process of escorting humanitarian aid convoys by road and air, a senior MONUC officer, who requested anonymity, told IRIN.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Goma said it was preparing to provide aid to the displaced people from facilities at Kayina town.
"For the moment we are prioritising assistance in essential medicine at health centres in Kayina, Kitsumbiro [35 km south of Lubero] and Kanyabayonga," Luciano Castelini, the head of UNICEF's emergency services in eastern DRC, said.
He added, "Starting on Friday we will be sending blankets."
"But people are still too scared to return to their villages and pass through the UN buffer zone," Castelini said. "The actual number of displaced is not yet known, as most of them are still hiding in the forest, afraid that hostilities between belligerents will reignite."
Prices of basic commodities in the area have reportedly skyrocketed because of the disruption in commercial traffic since the start of the hostilities.
The UN announced on 22 December that it was creating the buffer zone between the towns of Kanyabayonga and Lubero, following weeks of fighting between soldiers from a unit of mainly Congolese Tutsis, who had previously been members of the rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Goma) and those sent to the area from the capital, Kinshasa.