BUNIA, 26 August 2013 (IRIN) - Thousands of people have been displaced by clashes between government forces and an armed group in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Ituri District, according to civil society and aid workers.
These civilians are spread across several locations 20-100km south of Bunia, Ituri’s main town, including Katoni, Bogoro, Gety, Tchekele, Songolo, and Aveba.
“Some are staying in schools, others are wandering on the roads. They fled on Friday [23 August] amid shelling and gunfire. Nobody had time to take anything with them,” said Gili Gotabo, a civil society leader in Irumu territory, Ituri District.
“I feel sorry for the babies and the elderly who spend the night in the open, especially at a bad time like this when cholera has hit the village. If there is no humanitarian intervention soon there will be a crisis here,” said Ernest Pekelianda, an elder in the Lendu Bindi area of Irumu.
Ongoing conflict made immediate access to the area impossible, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
On 23 August, the army launched an offensive in Lendu Bindi against the Ituri Patriotic Resistance Front (FPRI), led by a former army officer who goes by the name of Cobra Matata and which has been present in the area for a decade.
Maj-Gen Claude Kifwa, commander of the ninth military region, said 33 FPRI fighters had been killed and one captured, while three government soldiers had been killed and seven wounded.
The army said it had taken about 10 villages previously occupied by FRPI, including the trading centres of Bavi and Olongba, some 60km south of Bunia.
“The operations are going very well. Nevertheless we call on the fighters to lay down their weapons and surrender either to the army or to MONUSCU,” he said on local radio, referring to the UN stabilization mission in DRC.
“Whoever wants to join the army only has to come and bring his forces, and without any conditions. We are going to go to another level if this appeal goes unheeded,” said Kifwa.
Cobra Matata faces crimes against humanity charges including rape, murder, looting and torture, allegedly committed in Irumu between November 2012 and March 2013.
He has offered to rejoin the army on several occasions, but on condition his men retain their military ranks and that amnesty be granted to other armed groups in Ituri, where some 60,000 people died in inter-communal conflict between 1998 and 2003.