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Conflict causes state of permanent displacement

Photo: Richard Pituwa/IRIN
An internally displaced woman and her children in Bunia, northeastern DRC
KINSHASA, 13 June 2007 (IRIN) - Intermittent clashes and frequent attacks on civilians by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have created a state of permanent displacement in the volatile central African country, an official of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

"There are a million internally displaced persons [IDPs], but each time there is a successful return of IDPs, there are new displacements because of conflicts elsewhere," said Judy Cheng-Hopkins, UNHCR's assistant high commissioner for operations.

"For us, the great challenge is to provide protection and assistance to the IDPS, especially protection against physical and sexual violence, protection of children, civil protection," Cheng-Hopkins told IRIN in an interview in Kinshasa on Tuesday.

She noted that the problem of displacement in the DRC was unique because of the large number of people who had fled their homes and the difficult logistics of delivering aid to them.

"Here, the people are always on the move, living with other families in the communities of reception or they are completely dispersed, so much so that it is a great challenge finding the displaced for identification and for the provision of assistance," she said.

Internal Affairs Minister Denis Kalume said there were 1.2 million IDPs in the DRC, mostly in the eastern region, which has been riven by local inter-ethnic conflicts and destabilised by the presence of hostile armed groups from neighbouring countries.

An estimated three million people were displaced by war in the DRC between 1998 and 2002. The majority has since returned home but insecurity in the east and northeast continue to cause displacements.

Cheng-Hopkins, who is on a three-day visit to the DRC, is expected to visit Bunia, the main town in the volatile northeastern district of Ituri, and Goma, capital of North Kivu province, the two areas most affected by displacement.

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