57 000 flee DRC province to Uganda: UN

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Geneva - More than 57,000 refugees have crossed into Uganda this year after fleeing ethnic strife in the Democratic Republic of Congo's northeastern Ituri province, the United Nations refugee agency said Friday.

That rate of flight far surpasses the 44 000 refugees who made a similar journey through all of 2017, UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told reporters in Geneva.

Refugees are primarily entering Uganda via Lake Albert on makeshift boats, a dangerous crossing that has already proved fatal for "several" people, UNHCR said in a statement.

Fighting in Ituri has involved the Hema and Lendu communities, respectively cattle herders and farmers who have a long history of violence over access to land.

At least 130 people have been killed since clashes flared anew in December, according to an unofficial toll compiled by AFP, while humanitarian workers say around 200 000 have been displaced.

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The conflict is one of many plaguing the chronically insecure central African nation.

The UNHCR noted that the struggles aid workers face in accessing Ituri made it "difficult to offer a detailed picture of the situation."

But the agency said it "has received chilling accounts of violence," including rape and murder, and had stepped up measures to help survivors.

Tensions in DRC have heightened amid the political uncertainty surrounding President Joseph Kabila's future.

In December, Kabila faces elections that have been twice delayed since his second presidential term - the last under the country's constitution - expired at the end of 2016.

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