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South Kivu displaced "in urgent need"

International Alert, a London-based conflict resolution organisation, has warned that displaced people in the Fizi area of South Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, are in dire need of assistance.

There are approximately 20,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in the vicinity of Baraka, about 80 km south of Uvira, on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, with smaller concentrations northwards along the lakeshore, Bill Yates of International Alert told IRIN on Wednesday.

Heavy fighting in the region from September to December last year - involving Burundi, Rwandan and rebel group Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) troops fighting against DRC government supported Mayi-Mayi militia fighters - had displaced up to 30,000 people, he said. However, about one third of those had since returned home.

Many people would remain displaced until at least May or June this year as they had planted seeds and were waiting for the next harvest before moving on again, Yates said. "They are reluctant to leave the investment they have made. Their harvest is all they've got," he added.

Line after line of ruined and roofless houses stand in Baraka town, where many of the recently displaced families from the interior of Fizi are sheltering, according to Yates. The original occupants had fled mainly to Tanzania as refugees, he said.

In December 2001, 100 cases of cholera were reported in the region, with a mortality rate of about 50 percent. The outbreak had been somewhat stemmed by the dispatch of serum from Uvira by the international aid agency Action contre le faim (ACF), but a "new, major outbreak" was unfolding in Kazimia, about 20 km south of the Ubwari peninsula, Yates said.

There are currently no drugs available to tackle this, he added.

Malaria appears to be endemic - due to the presence of mosquitoes on the lakeside - and malnutrition is also "widespread", particularly among small children, according to International Alert.

Seeds had been provided by ACF and this, in conjunction with rains now in progress, had led to evidence of new planting of manioc and other food crops. However, there was "no other evidence of any humanitarian supplies reaching Baraka or anywhere else in Fizi over the past couple of years," the organisation stated in an assessment report.

The most urgent needs are food and basic medicines, followed by non-food items, farming tools and - on higher ground - veterinary supplies and seeds, it said.

"There is a misapprehension among aid agencies that Baraka is an extremely dangerous place to get to, which is absolute rubbish," Yates told IRIN.

Local structures including chiefs, women's associations and church leaders had successfully formed a Joint Peace Commission and brokered mutual security guarantees, which had opened up routes and markets that had been closed for nearly four years, according to his agency's assessment.

Alert International said it has paid three visits to Baraka and Bibogoboko - an area comprising 10 or more villages - in Fizi since December 2001, the latest of which took place in February.

"Overall security in the area has been enhanced over the past eight months by the remarkable progress in community level peace talks between Babembe and Banyamulenge (the area's two main ethnic groups)", it said.

"This micro peace process going on between ancient antagonists is enhancing the general security situation," Yates added. "That is the best guarantee for aid agencies that international interventions are possible."

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told IRIN on Friday that it was in the process of helping four local organisations to establish a series of market places in strategic points in the area, to help bring the Babembe and Banyamulenge communities together.

A project proposal was expected before the end of March and meetings would take place in April, said Jean Charles Dupin, a senior humanitarian adviser.

"If that pilot project works, we expect other agencies will work with these local organisations. In that way, we can try to help them go further," he added.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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