DR Congo

DR Congo: Aid workers evacuated as LRA attacks resume

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BUNIA, 6 November 2008 (IRIN) - Aid workers have been evacuated after attacks by the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the north-eastern territory of Dungu, near the Sudan border, which have caused thousands of civilians to flee since September.

"The NGOs left because of insecurity; a large number of the population [also] fled," Jean Charles Dupin, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the north-eastern province of Orientale, said.

International NGO Medair evacuated its staff in Dungu to its base in the area of Isiro. Four UN staff were also evacuated by the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC).

"The situation on the ground has stabilised somewhat, but it remains extremely dangerous for civilians," Medair stated.

"Medair regrets the sudden necessity of this evacuation, but the safety and welfare of our staff are our highest priority," said John Farmer, Medair's operations director.

About 100 LRA combatants infiltrated Dungu town on 1 November through Lina Kofo zone, 12km north, after crossing River Dungu by boat.

"They began by entering the houses [to pillage] ... the people called FARDC [the DRC army] and fighting started," said Jean Marie Mbikaba, an adviser with the peace and justice commission in Dungu.

According to local authorities, about 50 people were kidnapped by the LRA rebels during the attack, among them 30 children, mainly girls.

Several people were injured, including civilians and government soldiers, who were treated at the local hospital. An estimated 10 LRA combatants also died.

At least 20 civilians have died in similar attacks since 19 October, stated an OCHA situation report.

There has been an increase in the activities of self-defence groups formed to protect the population from LRA attacks, said OCHA. On 3 November, 12 hostages kidnapped on 1 November were found 12km east of Dungu on the road to Faradje.

The rebels then escaped towards Faradje, 147km east, while the displaced population went 5-15km south of Dungu. "With the town itself now a conflict zone, people are fleeing and taking shelter wherever they can find it, often in the jungle," said Medair.

"The women and children fled with no clothes and spent the night in the cold," said Mbikaba.

"What is happening in Dungu is painful ... a humanitarian tragedy is unfolding," said Gabriel Mapendo, a local resident.

Besides insecurity, poor roads have also contributed to preventing humanitarian access in Dungu. OCHA estimated at least 50,000 people have been displaced.

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