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Democratic Republic of the Congo: humanitarian concern acute in southern Lubero

04-05-2009 Operational Update

There have been many acts of violence committed against civilians since February in this part of North Kivu and thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes. The ICRC is distributing relief supplies to both the people who have been displaced and the residents of the places hosting them. It is working to improve their access to clean water and seeking to reunite members of families separated during the fighting.

In southern Lubero territory, about 150 km north-west of Goma, military operations are being carried out against the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda. The main depredations reported are the rape and murder of civilians and the pillaging and destruction of property.

 
People forced to flee the violence 
 

Over 15,000 civilians have fled the towns of Miriki, Kasiki and Luhanga and sought refuge dozens of kilometres away, in the towns of Luofu, Kayna or Kanyabayonga. There being no other shelter for them there, they are living with local residents or in churches. Many of them are desperately short of the basics needed for survival.

The host communities are themselves affected by the poor security conditions. The people of Luofu, for example, have since March been unable to regularly work their fields. Without a proper harvest, these farming people can't meet their needs.

On the night of 17 April, Luofu was attacked. Ten civilians were killed or injured and over 200 houses burned. Afraid to stay in their homes, most of the town's population are now spending their nights in the forest.

During April, dozens of homes around Kayna, Kanyabayonga and Kirumba were pillaged by armed men. In the same area, civilian vehicles have often been attacked and their cargo stolen.

Southern Lubero is home to tens of thousands of people forced to flee their homes when conflict intensified in North Kivu between September and November 2008. Many parents were separated from children in the rush and remain without news of th em.

Other civilians have taken advantage of relative calm in Alimbongo and Kamandi to return to their homes there. Impoverished by pillaging and exhausted from their ordeal, however, they are having great difficulty resuming normal life, especially as security remains poor in the region as a whole.

 
ICRC response 
 

 Food and other essential items  

In the days following the attack on Luofu, the ICRC and the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo worked with the World Food Programme to help over 2,000 people whose houses had been burned. They received food rations for two weeks, tarpaulins with which to build shelters, and other essential items.

In addition, over 11,350 people who took refuge in Luofu and 9,350 town residents received food rations sufficient for a month. They also received seed, hoes and other items.

In April, distributions were also conducted in other places in southern Lubero:

  • Around Kamandi, over 38,000 people who had returned to their villages received food rations and seed. A further 9,150 people in the area who did not feel it was yet safe to return to their homes received food, clothing, sleeping mats, blankets, soap, buckets and cooking utensils.

  • In Alimbongo and Bingi, food was distributed to over 12,500 people (both displaced and hosts). These same people had been aided in February.

 Medical care and psycho-social care  

    

ICRC action in April:

  • The ICRC surgical team backing up staff at Beni hospital treated a number of injured people.

  • Delegates took wounded people – both civilians and combatants – to health-care facilities.

  • The organization contributed to the care given free of charge to over 2,700 displaced people in four health-care facilities in southern Lubero (Kitsombiro, Bwesenge, Kasehe and Vohoyo) and in Beni and Butembo hospitals. The ICRC provides these centres with basic medicines and with items used in emergency treatment of war-wounded people and rape victims.

  • The ICRC has trained staff for two new counselling centres set up in Kitsombiro and Bwaesinge. They will give psycho-social care for people affected by the conflict, most of them victims of rape committed by combatants.

 Water and sanitation  

Some 40,000 residents and over 10,000 displaced people will soon have better access to drinking water when ICRC work, begun in April, is completed on pipes connecting Kayna to Kirumba.

The ICRC also started building a system to supply water to the 2,500 residents of Kanyabayonga, located in an area particularly hard-hit by recent population displacements.

 Restoring family links  

    

In April the ICRC and the Congo-Kinshasa Red Cross did tracing work concerning 98 children separated from their parents during the September-October 2008 crisis. Thanks to the daily reading of their names over local radio stations, it has been possible to reunite 10 of these children with their loved ones.

A large number of Red Cross Messages (brief personal messages to relatives made otherwise unreachable by armed conflict) were delivered through th e vast network of Red Cross volunteers in the area.

 Protecting the civilian population and promoting international humanitarian law  

    

With humanitarian concern growing about the situation in southern Lubero, ICRC delegates stepped up their efforts to record abuses committed against civilians. While concealing the identity of the victims, the ICRC has made confidential representations to the warring parties.

The ICRC maintained bilateral contact with the belligerents, reminding them of their obligations under the law of war, in particular those regarding the protection of the civilian population.

During April, about 110 weapon-bearers and over 200 representatives of civil society and of the local authorities took part in events to promote the basic rules of international humanitarian law.

 For more information, please contact:  

 Olga Miltcheva, ICRC Goma, tel. +243 81 036 68 12  

 Anna Schaaf, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 22 730 22 71 or +41 79 217 32 17