Ethnic clashes claim 76 lives in DRC since December: Unicef

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Soldiers of the Congolese Republican Guard stand guard at the entrance of the Tshatshi military camp in Kinshasa on July 22, 2014, following an attack by an unknown armed group against the camp.

BUNIA - The UN Children&39;s Fund said on Friday it had recorded 76 fatalities, most women and children, in ethnic violence in Democratic Republic of Congo&39;s Ituri province since December.

Unicef is "very concerned about the situation of more than 46,000 children who are on the run because of the violence" between the Hema herders and Lendu farmers, which flared up during the Second Congo War (1998-2003).

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"More than 76 cases of murder ... have been documented, among them a majority of women and children," the UN agency said in a statement indicating that the victims were all hacked or stabbed to death.

The governor of the northeastern Ituri province, Abdallah Pene Mbaka, told AFP he was sceptical about the reported toll.

"There were indeed deaths (but) 76 deaths related to this violence? No, people need to do some work first. It matters to avoid sensational news," he said.

"I fear that the humanitarian workers have fallen into facile ways," Pene Mbaka added, declaring that he was awaiting the conclusion of a police investigation.

More than 70 villages have been burned down in the latest violence, while three health centres and seven schools were looted or razed, the governor acknowledged.

Unicef estimated that "more than 100 schools have suspended lessons, depriving 30,000 children of their schooling".

The agency said that "70 unaccompanied children and 245 children separated from their families and in urgent need of assistance" had been found around the general hospital in Bunia, the capital of the province.

The struggle over land use between the Hema and the Lendu peoples is one of the multiple active conflicts in the east of the vast DR Congo, along with bloodshed in the North and South Kivu provinces, south of Ituri.

The clashes have displaced more than 200,000 people since December, according to humanitarian sources.

During a visit to Ituri, Interior Minister Emmanuel Shadary on Wednesday pledged to "reinforce the deployment of police tasked with hunting down all the troublemakers".