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DRC: Insecurity continues to bedevil aid work in northeast

BUNIA, 16 September 2009 (IRIN) - Militia attacks in parts of northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the past few months are worsening the humanitarian situation there and preventing access to affected populations, says a UN official.

The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the zones under militia attack in Irumu Territory, south of Ituri District, has risen from 30,000 to 105,000 in a year, said Jean-Charles Dupin, a senior humanitarian affairs officer with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Bunia, Ituri's capital.

"Zones south of Aveba [town], Boga, Bukiringi, Kamachi and Zunguluka remain difficult to access due to insecurity. Any humanitarian interventions there would endanger beneficiaries who are attacked after aid distributions," said Dupin.

"NGOs have been forced to evacuate four times in the locality of Gety [south of Bunia] in the last two months... During the day, the displaced population returns to their fields to look for food. In the evening, they return to their places of displacement."

A 16 September OCHA update said close to 200 families had fled the locality of Mandibe, 9km south of Irumu, after a militia attack and were seeking refuge in Komanda, 75km south of Bunia.

The Congolese army has added to the displacement, according to humanitarian sources.

Between a rock and a hard place

Recently, army soldiers dislodged residents from localities neighbouring Gety in retaliation for the killing of a soldier during an FRPI/FPJC (Front de resistance patriotique en Ituri/Front populaire pour la Justice au Congo) raid in the Munobi area.

The soldiers, who blamed the death on the villagers, also arrested three village leaders, according to local authorities.

Affected populations are in a difficult situation, said local reporter Annuarite Unyuti: They are afraid of militia reprisal attacks and of the army, which accuses them of collaborating with the militias.

Local traders are opting to defend themselves, said Zebedée Zigiabo, a local nurse.

According to a resident of Lengabo, 7km south of Bunia, it has also become very difficult to distinguish between the militia and army soldiers.

Many people are without protection, said the coordinator of the Ituri parliamentary security initiative, Jean Baptiste Detchuvi. An initiative of 32 local parliamentarians is seeking to improve security in Ituri.

According to Detchuvi, there are still a lot of weapons in illegal circulation despite the demobilization of ex-combatants. An estimated 2,000 FRPI/FPJC militia members have not been demobilized, according to the national demobilization programme.

A contingent of the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) is south of Ituri to repel and neutralize FRJC/FRPI militia. For the moment though, its operations, which include logistical support to the army, have stopped, after local politicians decided to pursue a political solution to the conflict, said Lt-Col Jean Paul Dietrich, MONUC's military spokesperson.

The army staff major in Ituri, Eugene Walungu, said: "We have not recorded militia attacks recently [but] raids to steal and loot from the population. I take them [the raids] to be [the actions of] armed robbers."

Child soldiers

According to a report by the international NGO Save the Children, there are still many children serving as soldiers. Between September 2008 and August [2009], at least 117 child soldiers were rescued from different militia groups in Irumu. Most of those rescued in the last month were from the FPJC.

The children claimed that more child soldiers wanted to leave the militias but were afraid of reprisals or army attacks when trying to leave militia ranks, said Dupin.

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Copyright © IRIN 2009
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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