Thousands Flee Homes Amidst Renewed Violence in the DRC

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RAPAPORT… Thousands have fled their homes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) eastern province of North Kivu, in the wake of renewed fighting between government troops, renegade troops, and rebel groups, a UN spokesman reported at a September 4, 2007 press briefing in Geneva.

The clashes have raised concerns the mineral-rich nation may fall back into civil war, which plagued the country during the 1990s leaving an estimated 4 million people dead. In 2006, the DRC produced 28.99 million carats of diamonds, accounting for 16 percent of the global total.

“We fear that the pursuit of a military solution to the problems in North Kivu would further worsen the province’s humanitarian crisis through the potential displacement of hundreds of thousands of additional Congolese civilians,” said Ron Redmond, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR.)

Following clashes between supporters of General Nkunda and regular FARDC forces (the DRC’s national armed forces) the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MONUC, sent in 200 reinforcement troops to the area and stepped up diplomatic pressures in a bid to restore calm.

Redmond reported that while many of the internally displaced persons (IDP) had not witnessed direct fighting, they left their homes fearing the ongoing military buildup in the area. “Some of the IDPs have reported cases of rape and killings of civilians by armed men,” he added.

At a press briefing earlier in the week, UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis warned that “with heightened tensions and the build-up of military forces, the situation risks turning into a humanitarian and human rights disaster.”

More than 20 makeshift camps for internally displaced persons have emerged in North Kivu since December as the capacity of local host families to absorb the new arrivals has been overwhelmed, UNHCR reported.

UNHCR is considering the possibility of setting up a new displacement site near Mugunga, which currently hosts as many as 18,000 displaced people.

UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, expressed his concern over the clashes calling on “the government of the DRC and all local stakeholders to persevere in their efforts to bring about a peaceful solution.”

The Secretary-General is also very concerned by the impact of the fighting on local populations and calls on all parties to ensure the protection of the vulnerable.

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