More than 60,000 people fled clashes between the Congolese army and Ugandan rebels this month, hampering efforts by the United Nations and Congo to relocate 2.3 million displaced by conflict in the Central African nation.
The Congolese army is pursuing fighters from the Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda in the Beni area near the border with Uganda, the UN said today.
“We fear that the number of displaced might be much higher,” Stefania Trassari, spokeswoman for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, said by phone today from Kinshasa, Congo’s capital. “We are very concerned because Beni has been relatively calm in recent years and we are working to assess the needs of the displaced and then respond.”
War in Congo killed more than 3 million people between 1998 and 2007, according to International Rescue Committee estimates, mainly due to preventable disease and starvation. Conflict continues in the country’s mineral-rich east, where the army is fighting several foreign and Congolese rebel groups.
The ADF-NALU is involved in the trafficking of diamonds and gold from Congo’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces, according to a 2007 report by the World Bank. The group, which has roots in extreme Islamic ideology, is on the U.S.’s Terrorist Exclusion List.
Congo faces a “dramatic” humanitarian situation even after peace returned to some parts of the country, said Antonio Guterres, the head of the United Nations refugee agency. The integration of rebel groups from eastern Congo into the national army during the past year has allowed more than 1.2 million Congolese to return home since January 2009, according to OCHA.
“People want to consolidate peace, they want to recover their economy and their society,” Guterres said outside a displacement camp in Nyanzale in Congo’s eastern North Kivu province on July 23. “Then you have zones where conflict is still prevailing, where the humanitarian situation is still dramatic and in those you still need to have strong support from the international community.”
The World Food Programme will provide $400 million over the next two years to fund programs including helping people return to their homes and those who are still displaced, WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said in Nyanzale on July 23.
Guterres said abuses by the newly integrated Congolese army were a cause of continuing instability.
“If I would have to select a humanitarian priority in relation to the action of the international community in the DRC even if it looks strange, that humanitarian priority would be the creation of a true national army,” he said.