Fighting in DRC causes massive displacement

Thousand of civilians have fled heavy clashes between government forces, Mayi-Mayi groups and troops loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda’s Nation Congress for People’s Defence (CNDP) in eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

On 15 September, JRS informed Dispatches that the exact number of persons displaced since fighting resumed on 28 August remained unclear. However, the UN Office for Humanitarian Coordination (OCHA) estimated that about 100,000 people have been displaced, including many who had been displaced by earlier outbreaks of fighting in recent years.

JRS described the humanitarian situation in Masisi, Rutshuru (North Kivu province) and Kalehe (South Kivu province) as alarming. The deteriorating security situation has already forced several aid agencies to evacuate their teams leaving thousands without assistance. Medical stocks in several health centres in the area have been looted and cannot be restocked as the supply lines are often blocked by armed groups.

The volatile security situation has also forced JRS DRC to suspend project activities in Rutshuru. The team was about to start a primary school project designed to assist local host communities respond to the needs of the increasing numbers of displaced students. Almost 70,000 displaced persons live in the Rutshuru area.

Prior to the resumption of hostilities, the food security situation of the local and displaced populations was already unstable due to unfavourable climatic conditions and ongoing looting by armed groups. In April, growing demands in the area had forced the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to cut rations for displaced persons. The delivery of aid has been further complicated by increasing attacks on UN peacekeepers (MONUC) and humanitarian workers by frustrated local populations.

During the last two weeks, MONUC has intervened between the conflicting parties on several occasions, restoring what the UN peacekeepers described as relative calm. On 11 September, the CNDP announced a unilateral withdrawal of its troops to the positions held prior to the latest outbreak of violence. The following day, the UN Security Council voiced concern about the situation in the DRC, urging the CNDP to engage constructively in the peace process.

Last January, the CNDP and other armed groups signed a ceasefire accord in which they agreed to begin the withdrawal and demobilisation of their forces. However, prior to the recent clashes, according to MONUC, the accord had been violated on more than 200 occasions, including the continued rape, murder and theft of the civilian population. At the end of July, aid agencies put the number of internally displaced persons in the North Kivu province area at 857,000.