DRC: Aid workers evacuated as militia fighting continues

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fifteen aid workers have been evacuated from the eastern province of North Kivu after fighting resumed between a rebel group and local militias - despite the declaration of a ceasefire by one of the groups last week.

"Fifteen members of humanitarian organisations working in Rutshuru and Kiwandja were evacuated by MONUC [the UN Mission in the DRC] forces to Rugari [a local area]," said Lt Col Jean-Paul Dietrich, MONUC spokesman.

The fighting is between Congrés national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP) rebels, who are led by renegade general, Laurent Nkunda, and Mai Mai, Patriotes résistants congolais (PARECO) militias.

"Our patrol attacked PARECO positions with light weapons and did not use heavy artillery to avoid collateral damage. [About] 100 elements hid in houses and later escaped towards the south," he said, adding that "the fighting constitutes a violation of the ceasefire". Conflict escalated in the afternoon of 4 November and continued on 5 November.

"During the fighting the MONUC base was caught in the crossfire," said Dietrich.

The resumption of fighting has restricted humanitarian work, Christophe Illemassene, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the region, said.

Aid workers have also been trying to locate people displaced by fighting in the past week.

"As we feared, three internal displacement sites run by UNHCR [the UN Refugee Agency] near the town of Rutshuru in eastern DRC ... have been destroyed and emptied," said David Benthu Nthengwe, UNHCR external relations officer. "We and our partners are now trying to determine the whereabouts of tens of thousands of IDPs from the camps."

At least 230,000 people have been displaced after CNDP attacks near Goma, the main town in the province, according to OCHA.