Thousands of civilians who fled clashes between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) forces and militia groups in North Kivu Province are returning home but lack food, a humanitarian official said.
"The food situation is deteriorating and the number of children admitted in the special centres for malnutrition cases has doubled in the last three months," said Olga Miltcheva, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the DRC.
Clashes in the Nyamilima area of Rutshuru, 50km north of the capital, Goma, this year have forced at least 40,000 people to flee their homes, according to aid workers. Many sought refuge in other areas within North Kivu and in neighbouring Uganda, living with other families or in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.
Following a lull, many of the IDPs were now going home.
Miltcheva said the ICRC had distributed at least 680 tonnes of food, along with seeds and farming implements.
"These supplies will [support] their immediate food needs; the seeds will help the people to be self-sufficient as they prepare for the next planting season," she said. The situation, she added, had been aggravated by the bad harvest.
Aid workers were also worried about security for the returnees following reports of militia movements not far from the area of return.
According to Congolese army officials, the militias were suspected to be allied to dissident general Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the Congolese (CNDP).
"These movements by CNDP troops are among several," Colonel Delphin Kahimbi, the deputy army commander in North Kivu, told IRIN. "Nkunda is still recruiting and training people, contrary to the Goma peace accord."
The accord, signed on 23 January in Goma, called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, disengagement of troops and the creation of a buffer zone to separate the parties to the conflict in eastern DRC.
Kahimbi denied reports that the Congolese had recently acquired more ammunition for the army, and delivered it in 10 planes to Goma. "The issue of the planes is a false allegation, the army has not yet taken any decision or step despite the movements and recruitments within the CNDP camps," he added.
The UN Mission in Congo (MONUC) said the reported CNDP movements had not been confirmed.
"At the moment, MONUC does not have information on the movements, but we have information on the recruitments and other violations of the ceasefire accord," Sylvie van Wildenberg, MONUC spokeswoman, said. This, she added, had resulted from "lack of trust between the different parties".
According to aid workers, North Kivu is over-militarised, with up to 50,000 people bearing arms, most of them in the south.
The Congolese army has an estimated 20,000 soldiers in the province, while the armed groups, including the Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR), Mayi-Mayi militiamen and troops loyal to Nkunda, account for the rest.
The FDLR comprises groups of armed Hutu groups, many of them remnants of militias largely blamed for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and has been active in eastern DRC for more than a decade.
The UN estimates the violence has forced at least 850,000 people to abandon their homes.