The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has again perpetrated intense aggression against populations in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by kidnapping 90 children in Kiliwa and Duru; two townships north of Dungu. With continued insecurity in these areas, local people are forced to flee, and become internally displaced populations (IDPs). Insecurity is also preventing MSF from accessing and responding to growing IDP needs in the region. Since the latest attacks on September 20, 2008, the army of rebel leader Joseph Kony — himself outlawed from Uganda, Sudan, Central African Republic, and DRC — have left a bloody trail all the way to Bangandi, 120 km northwest of Dungu. According to a recent report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 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 IDPs, stressed the need for healthcare assistance and called on MSF to intervene rapidly. The MSF team visited the place between September 25-30 and confirmed the need for a rapid intervention as groups of IDPs were still heading for Bangadi. The first few hundred were sheltered in basic conditions, sleeping on the floor of an unused cotton factory without assistance.
“As these unpredictable LRA attacks continue without intervention from the army, 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 forested district. Limolo, Bitima, Duru and Bayote townships in the north, near the border with Sudan, were the first settlements to come under attack. More recently, attacks followed in Napopo and Kana, whose residents are currently fleeing in the direction of Bangadi. “According to the last information received by radio from Bangadi, the displaced people are assisting in clearing 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 field coordinator. Unfortunately the panic driving entire populations to seek refuge in the forests, where they cannot be helped, is fully justified in Bangadi today with gangs of determined rebels on one side and no one to stop them on the other. “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 Gaubert, adding, “It is not the job of humanitarian organizations to improve security. There are other actors who should and can do this. They should therefore take their responsibilities.”