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Relief operation begins for thousands of displaced civilians

NAIROBI, 8 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - A new relief operation has begun in district of Ituri, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to help tens of thousands of people displaced by fighting in January, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported on Monday.

"Most of the villages have been looted and burned down by the armed factions, civilians were reportedly killed and women and girls abducted," UNICEF said in a statement. "The villages are now completely deserted and the population has been displaced throughout the Djugu Territory."

The worst affected area is Djugu, north of Bunia, the main town in Ituri district, where fighting has been taking place between two armed factions, the Union des patriotes congolais (UPC) led by Thomas Lubanga and the Front nationaliste intégrationiste (FNI). UPC comprises members from the Hema ethnic group while FNI is mainly Lendu.

UNICEF said it had reached at least 42,000 displaced people at four sites for internally displaced persons (IDPs), three of which are protected by troops of the UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC. The agency said it had not yet been able to reach many other displaced people.

UNICEF is undertaking the latest relief operation alongside other UN agencies and NGOs including Oxfam, German Agro Action and Medecines Sans Frontieres.

Some of the organisations are providing water, sanitation, shelter and cooking materials. Others are distributing high protein biscuits, particularly to children. UNICEF said it was planning a measles vaccination campaign and an emergency education programme for displaced children.

There is a shortage of drugs and medical staff, according to the humanitarian affairs officer in the Bunia bureau of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Modibo Traore.

Two of the sites, in Kasenyi and Tchomia villages, have reported an increase in dysentery, "probably a result from drinking contaminated water from a nearby lake," Traore said.

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