NAIROBI, 3 September 2007 (IRIN) - The UN Refugee Agency has expressed concern over the plight of thousands of civilians forced to flee worsening tension and fighting in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Map of North Kivu Province
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on 3 September that an inter-agency team had, the day before, met groups of displaced people fleeing from Rubaya and villages in Masisi district walking towards Sake and Mugunga, where there is a site for internally displaced persons (IDPs), about 15km west of Goma.
"They had a few belongings packed in bundles. Mugunga IDP site, which had some 9,000 people at the beginning of August, continues to receive a daily trickle of new arrivals. According to the site leader, himself an IDP, this figure may have doubled in the past three weeks," UNHCR noted in a statement.
The agency said that in Masisi district, an estimated 2,000 newly displaced people had sought shelter around a school building in the centre of Mushake village. Some of the displaced had moved in with their cattle, it added. The displaced lacked blankets and there were concerns they were vulnerable to disease.
Another school close to Mugunga was already hosting an estimated 600 newly displaced people by the end of last week.
"There are fears that more displaced people may be trapped in areas inaccessible to humanitarian agencies. Some of the IDPs have reported ? rape and killings of civilians by armed men", according to the UNHCR, whose teams found unaccompanied children among the displaced, as well as parents desperately looking for their children.
The number of people newly displaced because of frequent outbreaks of violence in North Kivu has risen to more than 180,000 and continues to rise, according to UNHCR.
"UNHCR remains concerned that the pursuit of a military solution to the problems in North Kivu would plunge the province into a humanitarian crisis with a potential displacement of hundreds of thousands of Congolese. UNHCR hopes that the current problems in North Kivu can still be resolved through negotiations," the statement continued.
Violence between armed groups and the national army or clashes between rival militias in North Kivu have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn region in recent years. Civilians were often targeted by armed groups fighting each other.
The latest outbreak of fighting has pitted the national army against fighters loyal to dissident General Laurent Nkunda.