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Misery Continues in DRC: Cholera, More Refugees, FARDC Abuse, and Radioactive Ore Dumping

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I pray for the day when the news from the Democratic Republic of Congo is not as grim as it is today. Conflict in eastern Kivu province is forcing more people from their homes than at “any time since the end of the civil war in 2003,” as reported by MONUC today. In addition, here is a cholera outbreak in northern Kivu, reports of more army atrocities in Ituri, and confirmation of a dump of radioactive ore into the water supply.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that since 375,000 Congolese were forced from their homes in December 2006, an additional 160,000 are newly displaced in the last two months. The refugees are a result of continued fighting between regular government forces, renegade troops, and local militias and police forces.

"With sharpening inter-ethnic divides and a continuous build-up of military forces, UNHCR remains deeply concerned about the risks of severe human rights abuses and violence against civilians," MONUC reports.

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On Friday, a heavily armed clash took place between government troops (FARDC) and the army loyal to Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda. The fighting was reported northwest of Goma, which is the provincial capitol.

"After a lull in the fighting it started again at the end of the afternoon 30 kilometres (19 miles) outside of Goma, this time with heavy artillery," MONUC spokeswoman Sylvie van den Wildenburg said.

Cholera Still a Threat

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Meanwhile, in a development directly related to the refugee situation, efforts continue to combat the spread of cholera in Kivu Province.

This week, UNHCR and it partner ASODE, a non-governmental organization (NGO), distributed soap to nearly 20,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in two camps in Mugunga west of Goma in North Kivu, according to MONUC.

There is concern that lack of sanitary facilities at a camp at at Lac Vert hosting more than “10,000 internally displaced persons (IDP’s),” in the lexicon of relief agencies, could contribute to the further spread of cholera. Refugees would be a better, simpler word. UNCHR is transferring some of the refugees to a newly constructed camp, Buhimba, which has necessary health, water and sanitatin facilities for 10,000 people.

Cholera broke out in early October in five camps hosting some 45,000 refugees in the Mugunga area. According to health workers, by the end of October there were a total of 439 suspected cases of cholera. A spokeman said the number of cases is “slightly dropping.”

FARDC Abuse

Mainstream media has been very critical of rebel troops under Laurent Nkunda, but a buried fact remains that abuse by regular government troops (FARDC) is a serious threat to refugees in northeastern DRC.

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The United Nations reports, "With dissident groups hiding in the forest, displaced people dare not return to their villages. At the same time they are being mistreated by the army in the very areas where they are seeking refuge," said Arsene Kirhero, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Liaison Officer in Bunia, the main town in the volatile northeastern region of Ituri.

Kirhero was referring to 2,890 displaced households, some 14,450 people, from Lalo, Dhera, Doi and Du villages in the Djugu district, identified when a team of several UN agencies investigated events in the area.

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill Magazine, the Huffington (more...)
 

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