UN seeks protection of civilians in DR Congo
The UN refugee agency Friday urged the protection of civilians in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where government forces and rebels have clashed for four months.
Amid reports of indiscriminate and summary killings of civilians, rape and torture, “tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes in Nord Kivu province, many of whom sought safety in neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda,” said UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic.
Between April and July 15, aid agencies recorded more than 7,000 such incidents in Nord Kivu, the UNHCR said.
“We fear there may be more cases, where people were unable to speak out … especially in rape cases,” said Mahecic, urging “protection of civilians” caught up in the violence.
In addition to ethnic violence, victims had suffered arbitrary arrests, assaults, looting, extortion, destruction of property and forced labour, he added.
Children arriving in Uganda told the aid agency they were fleeing a recruitment campaign.
Reports said armed men were blocking escape routes for many of those fleeing to Uganda. Similar accounts have been related by arrivals in Rwanda, the UNHCR said.
In total, more than 470,000 Congolese have been displaced in eastern DRC since April: 220,000 in North Kivu, 200,000 in South Kivu and at least 51,000 to neighbouring Uganda (31,600) and Rwanda (19,400).
Congolese soldiers are fighting mutinous soldiers — Tutsi former rebels who were integrated into the regular army in 2009 as part of a peace deal that followed their failed 2008 offensive on the key DR Congo town of Goma.
They mutinied in April, demanding better pay and the full implementation of the March 23, 2009 peace deal after which they are named.
Kinshasa accuses Kigali of sponsoring the rebellion — a complaint supported by a UN panel, which said in June that Rwanda was supplying the rebels. Rwanda has repeatedly denied the accusations.
Earlier this month, Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame agreed to deploy a joint task force to neutralise the M23 rebels.