10 November 2009 The number of civilians fleeing tribal violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) into neighbouring Republic of Congo since last week has topped 21,800, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.
Details about the clashes between two tribes in northern DRC that began in early November are emerging now that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Republic of Congo authorities have visited the civilians who fled and are scattered across villages along a 160-kilometre stretch of the Oubangi River that separates the two Congos.
Fighting first erupted in March between the Enyele and Munzaya tribes over disputes based on farming and fishing rights in the village of Dongo, in DRC’s Equateur province.
In that first round of clashes, over 200 houses were burned and more than 1,200 residents fled to Republic of Congo. UNHCR said that last Wednesday’s clashes forced 21,800 – mainly ethnic Munzaya women and children – from their homes into the northern Republic of Congo after initially estimating 16,000 refugees had crossed the border in fear.
“They told our staff they were fleeing Enyele tribesmen who, they said, had gone from house to house, pillaging, raping and killing,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told reporters in Geneva.
Over the weekend, UNHCR began distributing blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, kitchen sets and jerry cans, reporting that more than 20 of the refugees arrived in Republic of Congo with gunshot wounds. The agency rushed nine of the severely injured to Impfondo hospital, including an 11-year-old girl who had her right leg amputated.
“Refugees have mostly stopped crossing the border amid reports that the DRC military forcefully intervened in Dongo to stop attacks by armed Enyele, who appeared to have organized into a militia,” said Mr. Mahecic.
“In spite of this government action, on Monday our colleagues in the Republic of Congo could still see smoke from burning houses across the river,” he added. “While some of the new arrivals told us they would like to go back to their villages once the Enyele militia is crushed, others felt too traumatized.”
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