UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 18 -- Some 80,000 people have been driven from their homes in a new outbreak of violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) over the past month following repeated clashes between the national army and rebels, the United Nations reported Wednesday.
"Cases of rape, kidnappings and other abuses by armed men have been reported," Madnodje Mounoubai, spokesperson for the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), said in a briefing, warning that the population was living in precarious conditions.
"Entire villages have been emptied of their populations," he said. "Many of those displaced, fearing violence from the belligerents, are believed to still be in the forests in inaccessible areas."
Humanitarian organizations were very concerned with the situation in the Ituri region of Orientale Province where the national army and the Front patriotique de l'Ituri (FRPI), the Ituri Patriotic Front, have repeatedly clashed since Aug. 22.
The new outbreak of violence is to the north of the Goma region, where a MONUSCO unit has been helping the national army battle another rebel group, the M23, in North Kivu Province which has seen little respite from fighting since UN peacekeepers helped bring relative stability and elections to much of the rest of the vast country over the past decade following vicious civil wars.
The M23 is a group of former rebels of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), which was rooted out in early 2009. Some CNDP fighters were then integrated into the army, before launching a new rebellion in April 2012, citing the failure of the government to implement the peace accord signed on Mar. 23, 2009 between the two sides.
The worsening situation around Goma, located near the border with Rwanda, is stoking tensions between the two neighbors, who have been accusing each other of involvement in attacks since the 1990s. The flare, if not contained, could once again pose a serious threat to the stability of the Great Lakes region, where a mini world war sucked in several countries between the late 1990s and the early 2000s.
Mounoubai said 120,000 people have been affected by the violence in the Irumu region of Ituri through the destruction of homes and the looting of property. Sporadic fighting between the army and the FPRI had broken out over the past weekend with both sides using heavy machine guns, mortars and rocket launchers.
Over the past year the fighting with the M23 in the Goma region has displaced more than 100,000 people, exacerbating an ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region which already has 2.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) driven from their homes in clashes with other rebel groups and 6.4 million in need of food and emergency aid.