KINSHASA — Fighting between Congolese army and mutineers has forced tens of thousands of people from their homes since late April, with thousands taking refuge in Uganda and Rwanda, officials said Wednesday.
The chronically unstable eastern province of Nord-Kivu has been beset by skirmishes between the Democratic Republic of Congo's army and a group of mutineers known as the March 23 movement, formed by former rebels who were integrated into the army under a 2009 peace deal.
"Across Nord-Kivu, there are around 47,000 people who have been displaced" within the province by the fighting, UN refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement.
Another 9,000 Congolese refugees have crossed the border to Rwanda to escape the clashes, it added, while Uganda's commissioner for refugees said some 10,000 Congolese have fled to his country since April.
In the Masisi and Rutshuru areas, which have seen some of the thickest fighting, the displaced are living in schools, churches and improvised camps.
UNHCR said it had built new sheds to accommodate overflow arrivals at the Muganga displacement camp outside provincial capital Goma.
The World Food Programme also said it had begun distributing 55 tonnes of food at the camp to feed 6,700 people for two weeks.
A UNHCR official in Uganda meanwhile said that on Tuesday alone more than 1,000 Congolese refugees had arrived at a transit centre near the border.
"Since 11 May we registered 8,520 refugees as of yesterday (Tuesday) night and we are still registering," said Sakura Atsumi, deputy UNHCR representative in Uganda, adding that the refugee agency had already moved two convoys of refugees to a settlement farther from the border.
Ugandan officials said earlier that thousands more Congolese were likely staying along the border, given shelter by local people and waiting to see if fighting would die down before registering with authorities.
In neighbouring Rwanda, the number of refugees arriving from the Democratic Republic of Congo has dropped markedly since spiking in early May, said UNHCR spokeswoman in Rwanda Anouck Bronee.
"Currently, approximately 150 on average cross the border into Rwanda every day," she said.
In all, 8,885 Congolese refugees have arrived at a transit centre close to the border town of Gisenyi since April 27, Bronee said.
Rwanda was already home to some 55,000 Congolese refugees before the latest fighting began, and Uganda hosts 18,000.
Kinshasa accuses former rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court for enlisting child soldiers, of leading the mutiny. The fugitive general denies the allegation.
The skirmishes are only one of several ongoing conflicts between the myriad armed groups based in the remote eastern regions of the vast central African country.
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