Thousands of Congolese refugees flee fresh fighting

Friday, 28 November 2008, 08:00 Hrs
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Nairobi/Goma(Congo): At least 13,000 Congolese refugees have fled into Uganda over the past few days as fighting flared up again in eastern Congo, the UN refugee agency said.

The refugees told the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) officials they were fleeing fighting around Rutshuru, one of the towns that has been caught up in battles between troops loyal to rebel general Laurent Nkunda and government troops.

The fighting exploded into full-scale conflict in October after beginning to ramp up in August.

Well over 250,000 civilians have been displaced since August as results of the clashes, aid agencies say.

Most of the new refugees arrived in Uganda on Thursday. They told UN officials the rebels had killed women and children indiscriminately.

"The rebels attacked my village. They killed all the women, even pregnant women," said 20-year-old Jean, who walked for three days to Uganda.

UNHCR said Thursday evening that refugees were continuing to arrive.

The UN has said that civilians caught in between the warring forces have suffered at the hands of all parties.

"All belligerents have committed serious atrocities against civilians, and these include widespread looting," Alan Doss, secretary-general's special representative to Congo, said in
a report to the UN Security Council.

"Women and children have suffered most from the recurrent fighting," he said. "Sexual violence is rampant, and many armed groups continue to recruit children into their ranks."

The UN has agreed to send another 3,000 troops to bolster the 17,000-strong peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUC.

The peacekeepers are hopelessly overstretched by the conflict.

However, former UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs Jan Egeland told the BBC that the troop surge was too little and said the lack of commitment to resolving the crisis was due to
discrimination against Africa.

Nkunda called a ceasefire and pulled his troops back from the front lines in mid-November after meeting UN special envoy and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo.

Obasanjo is due to visit Congo again this weekend.

Despite the ceasefire, clashes have been reported between Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) and the pro-government Mai Mai militia over the last few days.

Nkunda has warned he will march on the capital Kinshasa if the government does not address his grievances.

The rebel general says he is fighting to protect Tutsis from Hutu militias who fled the country after Tutsi forces seized power in Rwanda.

The armed Hutu groups were implicated in the 1994 massacres in Rwanda, when 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

However, the Congo government has so far refused to talk to Nkunda and accused Rwanda of backing him.

There are fears that the conflict could draw in other countries and reignite the 1998-2003 war, which UN agencies say caused the deaths of over five million people in Congo.
Source: IANS
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