300,000 flee new militia uprising in DR Congo

More than 300,000 people have fled their homes in Democratic Republic of Congo's Katanga province because of attacks by militia groups, the UN said Friday.

Events in the mineral-rich province have reached "alarming proportions" and are deteriorating, said Roger Meece, head of the UN mission to DR Congo, MONUSCO.

The Gedeon militia and allied groups such as Kata Katanga have been increasing attacks in northern Katanga after their leader, Gedeon Kyungu Mutanga, escaped from prison in late 2011, Meece told the UN Security Council.

Gedeon was sentenced to death in March 2009 by a DR Congo military court for war crimes and terrorism in Katanga between 2003 and 2006.

The UN estimates "there are 316,000 displaced persons in Katanga because of Gedeon-related military activity. This number is growing," Meece added, warning of a "major humanitarian crisis."

"I fear," Meece said, "this situation will likely grow worse in coming weeks."

Requests have been made for UN peacekeepers to be sent, the envoy said. "Unfortunately we have a very limited presence in the area, and correspondingly a limited capacity for response."

MONUSCO has more than 17,000 peacekeepers in DR Congo, but in recent months has had to concentrate forces in the eastern province of North Kivu where it has been helping the army battle and contain the M23 rebel militia.

The DR Congo army has clashed repeatedly with Gedeon and its allies this year in areas of Katanga near the border with Zambia.

The Kata-Katanga militia is fighting for a separate Katanga state. Since the independence of DR Congo in 1960, the province has regularly been shaken by separatist tendencies.