Tens of Thousands Flee Violence in Katanga Province, DR Congo

MSF Concerned for Nearly 20,000 People With No Access to Emergency Assistance

Kinshasa/New York, March 4, 2004 - After being blocked for ten days, teams from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have finally been able to assess areas outside of Kitenge, in the Katanga Province of southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and begin providing assistance to 9,000 people.

Fighting continues north of town, though, and the area is inaccessible to humanitarian aid agencies. As the area's population is estimated at 30,000, up to 20,000 people fleeing the violence may be unable to reach villages where assistance is available. MSF is worried that many of the people are living in extremely precarious conditions without any access to needed emergency medical care.

Since mid-January, armed groups known as the Mai Mai have targeted civilians living in and around Kitenge, with many people suffering rapes, mutilation, and massacres. More than 50 villages have been emptied and looted. Some villages have been burnt to the ground. The Congolese Armed Forces (FAC) have also summarily executed people and looted homes in the area. In Kitenge, one woman was shot dead in front of the MSF clinic as she sought help. Soldiers have harassed people in the nearby village of Sohe Gare every night for the past two weeks, leading some of the displaced to flee once more.

MSF has cared for more than a dozen wounded civilians, who managed to reach the health center, in the past two months. More than half of them are children. MSF is also treating 100 severely malnourished children in a therapeutic feeding center (TFC) in Kitenge.

MSF has been working in Kitenge's Anuarite Health Center since 2002. Today, mobile clinics continue to work in accessible villages where displaced people are seeking refuge.