July 30, 2010 / 6:48 PM / 8 years ago

Thousands flee Congo clashes as security worsens

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Almost 90,000 people have fled fighting in eastern Congo in the past month, aid agencies said, underscoring a worsening security situation despite the official end of Congo’s 1998-2003 war.

Conflicts between rebel groups, former militias and army troops simmer in Democratic Republic of Congo, and more than 1.9 million people are still displaced, up from 1.6 million in 2009.

“The displaced are in need of protection, food, water, shelters, medicine and non-food items,” OCHA, the United Nations aid coordination body, said in a statement Friday.

The aid agency said nearly 90,000 people have fled their homes in Beni territory in the north of Congo’s North Kivu province in the past month as a result of the army launching an attack on Islamic Ugandan rebels.

Uganda’s Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU), formed in 1996 and named on the U.S. Terrorist Exclusion List, has settled in Congo over the past few years, with their numbers thought to be about 600.

Humanitarian agencies said chaos and disorder prevented them from fully accessing the affected areas, and that many people who have fled are sheltering in schools and churches.

Six civilians have been killed, dozens injured and villages looted, OCHA added.

General Vainquer Mayala, in charge of Congo’s national army in North Kivu, said his soldiers had killed 26 and captured 11 rebels.

“They (ADF-NALU) are now hiding in the Ruwenzori mountains and we are soon going to pursue them with combat helicopters,” Mayala told Reuters, referring to mountains that lie on either side of the border with Congo and Uganda.

Antonio Gueterres, head of UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, said reforming Congo’s security forces was the priority for finally resolving a humanitarian crisis that continues despite post-war elections in 2006 and a flood of investments.

“Congo still faces a dramatic humanitarian situation,” Gueterres told reporters at Nyanzale, a camp for 3,000 displaced people in North Kivu, during a visit last week.

Gueterres appealed for the creation of a national army that is disciplined, well paid and respects human rights.

Congo’s army — a patchwork of former government, rebel and militia units — lacks funding and training and, as a result, is notoriously undisciplined and widely accused of rights abuses.

A United Nations report in May said child soldiers were used by the army in “significant numbers.”

Across the country, OCHA says at least 1.69 million have been able to return home in the last 18 months as some areas are pacified, but the numbers of displaced swell as conflict returns to the region, or erupts elsewhere in the mineral-rich giant nation.

Editing by David Lewis and Michael Roddy

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