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DR Congo Emergency - Background

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© UNHCR/M.Sibiloni

The Cost of Conflict for eastern Congolese

A peace treaty in 2003 brought the long and hugely costly civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to a formal end, but the suffering never really stopped for hundreds of thousands of people in the east of the vast, underdeveloped and poverty-stricken, but resources-rich, country.

While relative calm came to the rest of the country in 2003, waves of combat have shaken the east, particularly North Kivu province, and generalized violence and lawlessness remains a daily problem. A peace accord in 2009 between the Congolese military and armed groups in the east, including the ethnic Tutsi-led National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), brought some respite, but by late 2011 violence was returning to the area.

In April 2012, all-out combat erupted in North Kivu between government forces and the rebel M23 movement, whose fighters had been members of the CNDP before joining the army. Waves of fighting since April, culminating in the M23 capture on November 20, 2012 of the North Kivu province capital, Goma, caused massive displacement within the province and pushed almost 60,000 people to seek shelter in Uganda and more than 25,000 in Rwanda by year's end.

By the end of December 2012, an estimated 2.25 million people were internally displaced in North Kivu, South Kivu and Province Orientale. They fled violence, persecution and widespread human rights abuses, much of it ethnically motivated. This included murder, rape and other sexual abuse, torture, arbitrary arrest, assault, forced labour, forced military recruitment, including children, looting, extortion of food and money, and destruction of property.

The M23 withdrew from Goma after 10 days and began peace talks in Uganda with the Democratic Republic of the Congo government in early December. But security remains a major problem, including in areas where rival groups, including Mai Mai militia, the ethnic Hutu rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and others operate. Violence in South Kivu forced almost 5,700 people to flee to Burundi in 2012. In February, the M23 split into two factions, further complicating the situation.

The protection, shelter and assistance needs are huge in eastern Congo, where tens of thousands live in UNHCR-run sites and many more in spontaneous sites or with host families. Support is also needed for UNHCR-run transit centres and camps and settlements in Uganda and Rwanda.