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SOME 400000 people have fled growing tension and violence in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo since March, the International Committee of the Red Cross claimed yesterday.
In Nord-Kivu province, some 300000 civilians have fled their homes while in neighbouring Sud-Kivu about 100000 were displaced because of the threat from combatants accused of rape and looting, said ICRC's outgoing delegation chief in the country, Max Hadorn.
The agency said in its latest report on the growing plight of civilians in the country that violence was spreading in Sud-Kivu, while "crimes against civilians" including rape, murder, looting and destruction of homes continued unabated in areas east and north of the regional capital of Goma.
Violence was "increasing and it's very likely to increase," Hadorn said, pointing out that women and children are most vulnerable.
"We have no clear figures on child soldiers, but we have seen recently that it is on the increase, as is sexual violence," he said.
Hardon highlighted the threat of marauding soldiers both from the regular army, who were effectively out of control, and exiled Rwandan Hutu rebels in the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.
"The main problem is protection. It's really related to the deployment of armed forces, not collateral damage.
"You have very poorly paid soldiers," Hadorn said, suggesting that there would be little improvement unless attempts to reform the country's security forces came to fruition.
"This is a very big challenge for the government," Hadorn said.
On Tuesday the Congolese army warned its servicemen to respect human rights or be punished for their "reprehensible acts", including rape, torture and looting.
Advocacy group Human Rights Watch recently denounced a "spectacular increase" in the number of rebel attacks on civilians in the eastern and northeast regions of the country this year. - Sapa-AFP