KINSHASA, 6 Apr 2006 (IRIN) - The United Nations began airdrops of food relief on Wednesday to tens of thousands of people displaced by fighting between the national army and Mayi-Mayi malitiamen in Katanga, the south-eastern province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a UN official said.
"With the logistical problems of transport and the very bad state of the roads, as well as the prevailing insecurity in the region, we are obliged to proceed with aerial food distribution," said Claude Gibidar, a senior official for the World Food Programme (WFP), on Wednesday.
Airdrops are being made to 40,000 displaced people in the villages of Dubie, Mitwaba, Sampwe and Kasongeji, he said. Some 80 tonnes of food, mostly flour and beans, would be parachuted in over 10 days, at a cost of US $1,200 a tonne. "We are facing a very serious situation, which is why we have resorted to such an expensive operation." Gibidar said. "Truck convoys have been trying to get to the zone for months."
UN officials have said there could be as many as 120,000 people displaced in northern and central Katanga. Many fled their villages after the army launched a military operation in November 2005 to disarm Mayi-Mayi groups in Katanga.
Human rights groups accuse both the army and the Mayi-Mayi of committing abuses. The Mayi-Mayi in Katanga had received many of their weapons from the government when they were first formed in 1997 as a civil defence group to defend against invading Rwandan forces.