DRC closes camps for displaced people
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Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo -
Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo's volatile North Kivu province on Wednesday moved to close down camps for displaced people for security reasons, arguing that arms were hidden inside.
The sudden move, which will affect about 60 camps in the eastern province according to the UN refugee agency, caught humanitarian officials by surprise.
The provincial governor, Julien Paluku, on Tuesday ordered the closure of the Kiwanja camp - north of the provincial capital Goma and home to about 2 300 displaced people - “and the order was carried out today”, said Edgard Paluku, one of the governor's spokesmen.
The camps “constituted pockets of insecurity and a hiding place for arms”, he told AFP.
“All the other camps will be closed at the earliest opportunity,” the spokesman added.
The restive east has long been a theatre of violent attacks and killings and a string of rights abuses including rape and kidnapping.
Rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces and National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) have been accused of hacking scores of civilians to death in Nord Kivu since October.
The mainly Muslim ADF-NALU rebels have been hiding in the mountains that straddle the border between DRC and Uganda since being driven out of their homeland in 1995.
The Congolese army and UN forces launched an offensive in January to try flush them out of the region.
Celine Schmitt, the spokeswoman for Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said the agency was “in touch with the authorities on the ground” and wanted a clear and agreed strategy to relocate those displaced.
She said several thousands had spontaneously returned to their homes in recent weeks and insisted on the need for “voluntary returns”.
An expert on North Kivu, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were no armed groups in the area any more apart from some Rwandan Hutu rebels based around the Virunga National Park.
But many arms were in circulation in the region, the expert said, fuelling banditry and crime.