More than 800 children have lost contact with their families in the wake of fierce fighting between government troops and rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a Red Cross official said Saturday.
The renewed violence over the past few months has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in the Rutshuru area of DR Congo near the border with Uganda.
“Our Red Cross teams in Uganda and DRC tell us that 800 children have been separated from their families as a result of the upsurge in violence in Rutshuru territory,” Uganda’s Red Cross communications officer Irene Nakasiita told AFP.
Clashes have intensified in recent months after the M23 rebel militia accused the Kinshasa government of failing to honour a 2009 agreement under which the army was to incorporate its fighters.
Nakasiita said 716 unaccompanied children from Congo had so far been registered in Uganda alone, while 155 had been reunited with their families.
“Unfortunately, the security situation in the region makes searching for missing people and reuniting them with their families difficult,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.
“Access to areas where there are displaced people originally come from is risky and family members constantly on the move,” it added.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Wednesday that 13 civilians including four children had been killed in fighting in the Rutshuru district between June 19 and 21.
“Several villages in Rutshuru territory have been practically emptied of their inhabitants, some of whom have fled to Uganda,” it said.
At least 158,000 people have been forced from their homes since March in Rutshuru and the neighboring Nyiragongo area because of the conflict, the UN says.