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Refugees And Revolt In Northwestern Congo

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Refugees And Revolt In Northwestern Congo

Posted by David Sullivan on December 9, 2009

Refugees And Revolt In Northwestern Congo

Enough’s work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is focused on the restive eastern provinces, where armed conflict has persisted for more than a decade and where the highest levels of mortality and atrocities have occurred. But given Congo’s sheer size and multiple political challenges, it should surprise no one to see tensions rising in other parts of the country. Precisely this seems to be unfolding in the northwest corner of Province Orientale, where what was initially described by U.N. sources as ethnic violence between the Lobala and Bamboma communities over fishing rights has evolved into an armed insurrection against the government.

Now UNHCR is reporting that some 77,500 refugees have crossed the Ubangui river into the neighboring Republic of Congo, where aid agencies are struggling to meet basic humanitarian needs like food and shelter. I can attest to the size of this challenge, as I visited Congolese refugees in this region while working for the International Rescue Committee in 2003. Much of the region is inaccessible by roads, and instead aid is delivered via motorboat to refugees spread along the banks of the river.

Details regarding the new rebellion remain sketchy and rumors are running rife. A UN helicopter in the region was fired on at the end of November, injuring five. Enough has confirmed the movement of large numbers of Congolese army forces from the eastern provinces for transfer to the Dongo area of Equateur in a bid to quell the revolt. Keep in mind that Equateur province strongly supported Jean-Pierre Bemba, the rebel-leader turned runner-up presidential candidate in Congo’s 2006 elections, who is currently awaiting trial by the International Criminal Court for war crimes committed by his forces in the neighboring Central African Republic.


Photo: Congolese displaced by fighting. (AP)