Over 300,000 flee DR Congo ethnic clashes

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More than 300,000 people have fled their homes in northern Democratic Republic of Congo since early June due to inter-ethnic violence, United Nations aid agencies said on Tuesday.

Local officials say that at least 161 people have been killed in the northeastern Ituri province in the past week, in an apparent resurgence of ethnic clashes between farming and herding communities.

“Violence in northeastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo is reported to have displaced more than 300,000 since early June. The situation in Ituri province has deteriorated since the middle of last week, with multiple attacks involving the Hema and Lendu groups,” the U.N. refugee agency spokesman Babar Baloch told a news briefing.

UNHCR fears that the heightened clashes could engulf large parts of the province, amid reports of killings, kidnappings and sexual violence unleashed on civilians.

Baloch however noted that the government was trying to bring the situation under control.

As Congolese flee violence at “this massive scale”, fears are that more people will try to seek safety in Uganda, crossing Lake Albert, Baloch said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) fears that this movement of people from the DR Congo may aid in the spread of Ebola.

An Ebola epidemic in Congo, which spread to Uganda last week, has caused 2,168 infections since August, including 1,449 deaths, with Ituri accounting for about 10 percent of cases and deaths, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said.

“We are always saying the mobility of the population in North Kivu and Ituri is a risk factor,” Jasarevic told the briefing.

“So every time you have people moving in high numbers, it is more complicated to do the work of follow-up, contact tracing, follow up on the people who are supposed basically to be observed on a daily basis for 21 days,” he said, referring to the disease’s incubation period.

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