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DRC: Dozens of people wounded and thousands newly displaced during violent fighting in North Kivu

By Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
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GENEVA, Switzerland, July 31, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Over the last two days, MSF teams working in the Rutshuru hospital treated 66 wounded people. A majority of the wounded were civilians. Fighting has also displaced several thousand people in the last three days.

Violent fighting broke out on Tuesday, July 24 and Wednesday, July 25 in Rutshuru Territory, approximately 80 kilometers north of Goma.

On Friday, July 27, MSF teams working in the Rutshuru general hospital treated 66 wounded patients, including 62 women and children. Forty-eight people required emergency surgery. A man and a 5 year-old girl died of their injuries.

"The first wounded people began to arrive on Wednesday morning around 6:30 am," says Patrick Wieland, MSF's head of mission in North Kivu, in Rutshuru. "Half of them came from Kiwanja, several kilometers north of Rutshuru. Others were wounded by a projectile that exploded near the church here in Rutshuru. We treated bullet and grenade wounds and injuries from shell and rocket fire."

The situation remains tense and there is considerable risk that fighting will resume in the area, although it did stop on Wednesday night. Sporadic fighting has been underway between the Congolese army and armed rebel groups in Rutshuru Territory since May. However, heavy weapons fighting has occurred in densely populated areas for the first time since clashes resumed, wounding large numbers of civilians and creating panic within the population.

"Thousands of people, mostly women and children, have taken refuge here at the hospital since Wednesday," Wieland says. "People are afraid. They don't want to go home. Approximately half of the hospital staff stayed away from work in the last few days for fear of new violence."

As a result of the fighting, it has also become extremely complicated and dangerous to transport medicine and medical supplies to Rutshuru, although fighting is likely to produce additional victims in the coming days.

The intensity of the conflict has also led to major population displacements, with people heading toward Goma. Over the last three days, several thousand have flooded into Kanyaruchinya, several kilometers north of Goma, the regional capital. Their numbers have added to the approximately 8,300 people already displaced by the fighting since July 12.

MSF teams went to the area on Wednesday to provide aid. "People were tired, hungry and thirsty" says Dr. André Kambale, an MSF doctor. "We saw seven children whose feet were swollen because of the long distance they had traveled. We distributed a little water and food and conducted several medical examinations. However, these people are destitute."

The MSF teams now plan to begin working in the Kanyaruchinya health center to provide additional health care services to both the displaced and resident population.

MSF continues to provide medical care in North Kivu province's four referral hospitals, 20 health centers and three health posts and in South Kivu province's six referral hospitals, 24 health centers and five health posts. It also manages several cholera treatment centers and provides weekly mobile clinics and emergency intervention when necessary.