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Tens of thousands of newly displaced people in Ituri need aid

NAIROBI, 14 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - Relief aid agencies say they are struggling to provide basic needs to tens of thousands of civilians in Ituri District, in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who have fled their homes because of recent fighting.

"People are sleeping outdoors; they lack food and cooking facilities. They even lack clothes," Modibo Traore, the humanitarian affairs officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told IRIN on Monday.

Many are getting sick from drinking untreated water from the lake and there are concerns that cholera has broken out.

"Some are in areas that are too dangerous for relief workers to reach," said Traore. "Some are hiding in remote areas where there are no roads."

Traore said the number of displaced people could be as high as 80,000, though aid groups are currently only able to reach 55,000 of them.

Relief groups are operating at five sites; three of which are on the shores of Lake Albert, which borders Uganda. Around 2,000 people are reportedly crossing the lake daily to seek refuge on the Ugandan side.

Last week, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) started providing potable water in Tche village, 20km from the lake, where nearly 7,000 people are camped out. However, MSF said the condition of people there remained "precarious".

The UN Word Food Programme, the UN Children's Fund, German Agro Action and OXFAM-Great Britain are among the other organisations providing food and other items, according to the UN peacekeeping mission there, known as MONUC.

Most of the violence has been taking place in villages in Djugu Territory, north of Bunia - the main town in the district - between two ethnic-based militias, Traore said. One is the l'Union des patriotes congolais, headed by Thomas Lubanga, and is predominately Hema; the other is the Front des nationalistes integrationnistes, which is predominantly Lendu.

"More than 70 villages have been burned down," Traore said. "People are afraid of returning even though they have almost nothing where they are."

MONUC has recently sent peacekeepers to the area.

Traore said reports of progress in disarming the militias had not helped end the fighting. The reason is that, so far, only leaders of the militias have agreed to join the national army.

"The process has not yet reached the rank and file," he said.

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