DRC: 300,000 people have fled violence in Ituri since early June

More than 300,000 people have fled inter-ethnic violence in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the past two weeks, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

“The latest outbursts of violence have pushed more than 300,000 people out,” said Babar Baloch, a spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), during a press briefing in Geneva.

He stressed that the situation in Ituri province had deteriorated badly since the middle of last week with “multiple attacks” involving the Hema and Lendu communities.

The conflict between these two ethnic groups, mainly ranchers for the first and farmers for the second, had killed tens of thousands of people between 1999 and 2003 in this gold-rich province bordering Uganda and South Sudan. . It had ended only with the intervention of a European force under French command.

“We are overwhelmed by this influx of displaced people, 300,000 to 400,000 people.The priority is first to secure and stop the violence,” told AFP in DRC Jean Bamanisa Saidi, governor of the province of Ituri.

“We must also ensure the spread of diseases through preventive actions, and bring food to these displaced,” he added.

Ituri is affected at the margin by the Ebola epidemic in the DRC that has killed more than 1,400 people, mainly in neighboring North Kivu province.

Mr Baloch recalled that the clashes between the two communities had already forced some 350,000 people to move in late 2017 and early 2018, “but (that) the situation then calmed down.”

“Large-scale displacements” were recorded in three of the five administrative territories of Ituri, in particular that of Djugu, he said.

“UNHCR is concerned that this escalation will spread to large parts of the province,” he warned. “We are very worried about the safety of civilians after being informed of killings, kidnappings, mutilations and sexual violence”.

According to the UN, most of the displaced people have taken refuge in communities but some 30,000 have come to host sites “where conditions are already terrible”.

For the Belgian David Van Reybrouck, author of “Congo, a story”, the 2003 communal conflict “resembled a miniature version of the 1994 genocide (in Rwanda) .The Hema, with their cows, felt close to the Tutsi. an ethnic minority that formed the upper layer of society.The Lendu were farmers who compared themselves to the Hutus: many, but at the bottom of the ladder “.

Source: Seychelles News Agency