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Over 500000 people displaced in DR Congo last year says UN

More than a half a million people have been displaced in the past 12 months in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), mainly due to fighting between Government and rebel groups in the country’s volatile northeast, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today.This is the largest wave of displacement in the country since the end of the civil war in 2003, OCHA added.Escalating clashes between Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and dissident groups and militias, as well as widespread human rights violations committed by all groups throughout 2007 especially since last August, are responsible for the massive increase in internal displacement within North and South Kivu provinces. Some 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) returned to their homes in the eastern part of the DRC last year with the help of aid workers. However, in many areas most affected by the recent escalation of fighting, especially the two Kivu provinces, new displacements are much greater than the returns, OCHA noted. “Such an overwhelming level of new displacement is very worrying,” John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said. “Unless peace can be quickly restored, we are bound to see further human tragedy in a country trying to emerge from years of civil war. Meanwhile, armed groups must stop targeting civilians.” The situation is especially dire in North Kivu, where fighting has escalated in recent months between Government troops and rebels allied with the dissident army general, Laurent Nkunda. Since last August, some 232,000 people there have fled their homes, bringing the total number of IDPs in the province to over 800,000, including those displaced before 2007. Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports suggest there may be an additional 150,000 displaced.South Kivu is also badly affected, according to OCHA, with over 100,000 people displaced last year. At the same time, the province has become a “safe haven” for some 60,000 people fleeing North Kivu. While the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) assisted some 230,000 people to return to their homes throughout 2007, South Kivu continues to host over 357,000 IDPs.Meanwhile, a UN-supported conference aimed at bringing peace, security and development to the DRC’s strife-torn eastern region is currently underway in Goma, the capital of North Kivu. Addressing the over 1,000 delegates today, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for DRC stressed the need for participants to acknowledge the sufferings of women, who endure various acts of wartime sexual violence, and children drafted against their wills into the ranks of armed groups.Alan Doss called on both rebels and Government troops to take disciplinary measures against those among them who abuse the rights of women and children. In addition, he urged the armed groups to immediately release child soldiers within their ranks.The conference, expected to conclude on 17 January, continued today with thematic workshops, including presentations by various commissions and local armed groups. 15 January 2008More than a half a million people have been displaced in the past 12 months in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), mainly due to fighting between Government and rebel groups in the country’s volatile northeast, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today. read more