KAMPALA: Over 22,000 refugees have fled fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo to neighbouring Uganda, violence that has left several dead and villages torched, the UN said on Tuesday.
At least four refugees drowned while crossing the waters of Lake Albert between the two nations, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said.
“Last week, over 22,000 Congolese crossed Lake Albert to Uganda in three days, bringing the total number of people from the DRC arriving in the country to about 34,000 since the beginning of the year,” UNHCR said on Tuesday.
“The refugees use small canoes or overcrowded and rickety fishing boats, often carrying more than 250 people and taking up to 10 hours to cross.”
Violence erupted earlier in February in DR Congo’s province of Ituri between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups.
Hema herders and Lendu farmers have been locked in violence in Ituri for decades, with tens of thousands killed from 1999 to 2003.
“Refugees crossing to Uganda talk of growing attacks against civilian populations, as well as killings and destruction of private property,” the UN statement read.
“UNHCR staff also received many reports of civilians being hacked to death and killed with arrows.”
Ituri is part of the DRC’s deeply troubled eastern region that includes the restive North and South Kivu provinces, where militias hold sway over huge areas.
The latest violence comes amid uncertainty over the future of President Joseph Kabila, who has been in office since 2001.