DR Congo

Congolese rebels seize military base, national park

By Lisa Schlein

Geneva - The World Food Program says about 200,000 people have fled their homes over the past two months because of renewed fighting in eastern Congo between government and rebel forces. The UN agency says the fighting is making delivery of needed aid increasingly difficult. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The World Food Program reports about 200,000 people in North Kivu have been newly displaced since August, when renewed fighting broke out between Congolese army forces and troops loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkundu.

The United Nations estimates that fighting since 2007 has made between 1.4 million and two million people homeless.

The director of the World Food Program in Geneva, Charles Vincent, says humanitarian agencies are having great difficulty delivering aid in the region, amid growing needs.

"Malnutrition rates are increasing. Many of the areas affected have malnutrition rates well above the emergency threshold, and we have prioritized WFP assistance to the malnourished children, to the people who really are at risk of dying," said Vincent. "There are cases of reported deaths from malnutrition as well as other related diseases."

Vincent says the fighting in North Kivu has had serious consequences, including the loss of this year's agricultural crop. He says farmers can neither plant nor cultivate their land, and thousands of children are losing out on education.

"My Congolese friend and official just told me that he has been traveling in North Kivu and basically there are villages, which are empty, dead villages. People have fled completely. You do not find anybody across villages, not a single person living there," he added. "We cannot forget that 50 percent of rapes, it is estimated that 50 percent of rapes in the DRC are committed in North Kivu. And, there is an enormous need for all kinds of assistance to the women that have been abused."

Vincent says militia groups are increasing the number of checkpoints along the roads and demanding so-called taxes to let relief convoys pass. As a consequence, some commercial contractors are refusing to carry goods to certain areas, because they say they are losing money.

The World Food Program says it needs 33,000 tons of food to feed hundreds of thousands of people through March. WFP says it needs $46 million to prevent severe breaks in the food supply line in the coming weeks.