DRC - Haut-Uele province: MSF intervenes to assist displaced people in Bangadi as violence escalates

The kidnapping of 90 children in Kiliwa and Duru, two townships north of Dungu, by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has further inflamed an already conflict-ridden situation in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Populations caught up in the violence have no other choice than to run away and seek refuge in nearby forests. As the needs increase, MSF wants to assist them but the increasing insecurity is threatening the mission.

Since the latest attacks, on 20 September, armed men from the LRA, have left a trail of destruction all the way to Bangandi, 120 km north west of Dungu.

According to a recent OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) report the violence has forced at least 17,000 to flee.

The MSF team, working on a sleeping sickness project in Banda, started receiving anxious radio calls from the local senior official in Bangadi who, reporting the sudden arrival of many displaced people, stressed the need for health care assistance and called on MSF to intervene rapidly. The MSF team managed to visit the place between 25 and 30 September and confirmed the need for a rapid intervention as groups of refugees were still heading for Bangadi. The first to arrive, in their hundreds, were sheltered in very basic conditions, sleeping on the floor and without any assistance in a disused cotton factory.

"As these attacks continue unabated, the number of displaced people may rise dramatically," says Laurence GAUBERT, MSF head of mission in the DRC. Some 9,000 people are said to live in a number of villages in this mainly forest district. Limolo, Bitima, Duru and Bayote, townships in the north near the border with Sudan, were the first settlements to come under attack followed, more recently, by Napopo and Kana whose residents are currently fleeing in the direction of Bangadi.

"According to the lastest information received by radio from Bangadi, the displaced people are helping to clear the landing strip nearby. This should allow us to fly in aid more rapidly, hopefully they won't have fled before that," says Jacques ETIENNE, MSF Banda field coordinator, contacted by phone from Geneva.

"If the situation doesn't improve rapidly it will be impossible to intervene and thousands of helpless people might flee into the forest," says a dismayed Laurence, adding, "It is not the job of humanitarian organizations to improve security. There are authorities who should and can do this. They should therefore take up their responsibilities."