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More displaced in North Kivu as fighting resumes

KINSHASA, 25 September 2007 (IRIN) - Military dissidents loyal to renegade army general Laurent Nkunda have resumed fighting in the eastern province of North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, two weeks after a ceasefire was negotiated by the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC).

"The insurgents launched attacks against three of our positions in the morning, in Ngungu where the clashes had ceased, in Karuba and in Kichanga [in Masisi territory, northeast of Goma, the provincial capital]," Colonel Delphin Kahindi, the deputy commander of the Congolese army in the province, said on 24 September.

"There were clashes this morning in Ngungu and in Mweso, but it is not known if the fighting continued," Major Gabriel de Brosses, MONUC's military spokesperson, said.

"One cannot say the ceasefire was broken because they were just clashes," De Brosses added, saying MONUC had sent a patrol and was awaiting an update on the situation.

More displaced

The increasing number of people continuing to arrive in displacement camps in North Kivu, fleeing the forces of Nkunda, is raising concerns among humanitarian aid workers.

"The number of people forced to flee violence this year in the DRC's North Kivu province has passed the 300,000 mark, the highest level in over three years," said UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesperson Jens Hesemann.

According to Masako Yanekawa, head of the UNHCR office in Goma, 4,000 IDPs have in the past three days reached the new site of Bulengo, about 15km west of Goma, set up by UNHCR.

Some of them are coming directly from their villages, from the bush and the forest, where they tried to escape child recruitment drives being conducted by Nkunda's men, Yanekawa said.

According to Hesemann, the UNHCR and DRC authorities have been engaged since 19 September in distributing aid at the Bulengo site.

The assistance, which includes plastic sheets, kitchen sets, blankets, buckets and soap, as well as rice, oil, maize flour and salt, has so far benefited 7,860 IDPs, he said.

Some of the 4,000 newly displaced have come from ad hoc sites, he added. The Bulengo site has grown over the past week to more than 1,500 families (about 7,500 people) as additional displaced arrive from villages and makeshift camps in the surrounding areas.

According to Hesemann, UNHCR is now expanding the site's capacity: "There are still not enough latrines and water access points but UNHCR is working with partner agencies on more facilities. Each displaced family is allocated a small plot on which to erect a temporary shelter. Together with the World Wildlife Fund, UNHCR has scheduled a distribution of firewood to reduce deforestation around the site, where the displaced have been gathering wood for cooking and construction."

In September alone, 90,000 people fled their homes, according to assessments by several UN agencies and non-governmental organisations, added Hesemann.

Those displaced in the province so far this month include 65,000 Congolese in the Mugunga area west of Goma.

The DRC government has donated relief items, plastic sheets and food, while UNHCR has contributed some 500 supplementary plastic sheets. UNHCR has also deployed extra staff to reinforce its regular team.

UNHCR access to displaced populations has improved in a few areas, but in general remains difficult due to the tense security situation, Hesemann said. "In recent days UNHCR teams were able to visit Sake town, some 35km west of Goma, where UN peacekeepers have deployed, but few displaced have returned."

President Joseph Kabila travelled to North Kivu on 19 September and discussed with aid agencies how to improve access for humanitarian workers and protect civilians from armed groups, as well as the needs of those affected by the North Kivu crisis.



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