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UNHCR Suspending Operations in Eastern DRC

By Lisa Schlein
07 June 2008

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says it is suspending operations in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo following a deadly attack by rebels on a makeshift camp in the Rutshuru area of North Kivu province. The raid on Kinyandoni camp left at least nine people dead and scores wounded. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The camp shelters some 5,000 internally displaced people. UN officials blame the murderous attack on the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.

They say several armed men stormed the camp, stealing mobile telephones and cash. As they left, witnesses say the rebels started shooting indiscriminately at people in the camp, including a group of children who were playing.

A spokesman for the UN refugee agency, Andrej Mahecic, tells VOA the Congolese army drove the attackers out of the camp, but two children who were shot later died.

"UNHCR is shocked and alarmed by the fact that the displaced people who had already been victims of the fighting throughout 2007 were targeted in this way and there is definitely a need for lasting peace in North Kivu," he said. "There are hundreds of thousands of displaced people in need of shelter, in need of protection and in need of solution."

The UNHCR reports an estimated 860,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in North Kivu. The agency and its partners are managing sites sheltering around 80,000 of the internally displaced.

In January, the government and a number of Congolese rival groups signed a peace accord. But, it has been breached on several occasions.

Mahecic says the area remains volatile and, as seen this week, new eruptions of violence remain a constant threat. Because of the attack on the camp, he says the UNHCR is suspending its operations in the Rutshuru area.

He says all other humanitarian aid agencies also have decided to pull out of the area, which is located about 70 kilometers north of Goma.

"This is just a temporary situation until there is at least some resemblance of stability and some resemblance of the basic security that we can send the staff back," he added. "You have to understand that UNHCR staff and the workers, in fact, some of the government officials were in the makeshift site as the rebel attack took place."

Mahecic says, fortunately, none of the aid workers were hurt during the attack. But, he notes they remain frightened and will not return until security improves. Unfortunately, he says the internally displaced, who suffered the brunt of the attack, have to remain in the camp where the situation remains fragile.

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