President Joseph Kabila Wins Majority of National Vote in the DRC
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Violence has forced thousands to flee their homes in North Kivu since December
KAMPALA, 22 October 2007 (IRIN) - An estimated 8,000 people fleeing violence in the North Kivu province of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have entered Uganda since 19 October, the UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR) said.
"The influx into Bunagana [a border post in southwestern Uganda's Kisoro district] started Friday [19 October] night as Congolese living in villages close to the Uganda border crossed into Uganda to escape clashes between government soldiers and troops allied to the renegade army general Laurent Nkunda," said Robertta Russo, spokeswoman for UNHCR in the Ugandan capital Kampala.
Fighting between Nkunda's forces and government troops in North Kivu has intensified since September. UN estimates say violence has forced at least 370,000 civilians in the region to flee their homes since December 2006.
Russo said most of the refugees arriving in Uganda were in "relatively good health", but some had bullet wounds. "They said they were caught in the crossfire as fighting raged around their homes early on Saturday [20 October] morning," she said, adding that more displaced people could arrive because fighting was still being reported in the Rutshuru area of North Kivu.
A small group of refugees went to Busanza, another border point about 15km north of Bunagana.
"A joint assessment team comprising government officials, Médecins Sans Frontières and UNHCR had travelled on Sunday [21 October] from Mbarara to Bunagana to verify information about the influx and prepare for the distribution of aid," Russo said.
The latest wave of displaced people included those fleeing clashes in areas around the town of Rutshuru, according to Louis Igneault, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Goma, the capital of North Kivu.
Some had sought shelter in Rutshuru, while others were scattered nearby or had been accommodated by families in the area.
A spokesman for the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC) said fighting had taken place between a faction of Mai Mai militia and Nkunda's fighters around Bunagana. Government forces had also clashed with Nkunda's militia in Bukina village, 90km north of Goma, Major Prem Kumar Tiwari said.
Reports said more people were fleeing the area on 22 October, although there had been no fighting since the previous day when government troops re-took control of villages previously seized by insurgents loyal to Nkunda.
"There is no more fighting in Bunagana and Djemba because we have repulsed the insurgents back to the mountains in the area," said Delphin Kahindi, the deputy commander of government forces in North Kivu.
Ugandan authorities in Bunagana on 22 October met some of the displaced and asked them to move away from the border area for their own safety. Many of the refugees were scattered around Bunagana town or sheltering with friends and families in the border town.
UNHCR and WFP on 22 October began distributing high-energy biscuits and basic household supplies to some 200 refugees at the transit centre. Water and sanitation facilities had also been prepared to cater for increasing numbers of refugees.
The latest influx of people from North Kivu into Uganda is the third in as many months. In August and September an estimated 30,000 people fled into Uganda to escape the violence. They however returned home several days later after fighting died down.
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KINSHASA 22 October 2007 Sapa-AFP
DR CONGO'S KABILA GOES TO MEET US ALLIES
President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo left Kinshasa early Monday for the United States, which backs his post-war government and where he will meet his US counterpart, George Bush.
Kabila was accompanied on the flight by Foreign Minister Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi and several cabinet members including his political and diplomatic aide, Marcellin Cishambo, a foreign ministry source said.
The DR Congo leader is due on Friday to talk to Bush about both the success of his administration elected in the vast war-ravaged country since most of the fighting ended in 2003 and the challenges still presented by ongoing conflict, his aides and a White House statement said.
Washington is currently putting pressure on a renegade ex-general in the eastern Nord-Kivu province, Laurent Nkunda, to disarm an estimated force of about 5,000 troops who last month began fighting the DRC army again in breach of a truce mediated by the UN mission in the country.
The United States has also pressured Kinshasa and the government of Rwanda in Kigali to reach a regional settlement that could settle the Nkunda problem and that of the presence in eastern DRC of Rwandan Hutu rebels, some of whom are held resonsible for the 1994 genocide in the neighbouring country.
Kabila last week travelled to Nord-Kivu to assess the
politico-military and desperate humanitarian situation in the region, where about 750,000 villagers have been displaced by fighting and are often inaccessible to relief agencies while the clashes go on.
The Nkunda issue and the Hutu rebel ones are inseparable because the former general, who has set himself as a powerful regional warlord, claims to be the guardian of ethnic Congolese Tutsis from the same minority population as those mainly targetted in Rwanda's genocide. But for Kinshasa, he is a wanted war criminal.
He demands talks with Kinshasa, but Kabila has refused and ordered his army to prepare for an all-out offensive against Nkunda's forces if they fail to turn themselves in for a disarmament and demobilisation programme under which many would be incorporated into a reformed military.
A White House statement said that bilateral cooperation in security reforms and economic reconstruction in the eastern DRC, where other militia forces are also still active, will be high on the agenda during the visit by Kabila and his aides.
UN 'slow' to stop DR Congo abuses
All sides in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo are guilty of murder, rape and forcing children to fight, Human Rights Watch says.
The New York-based human rights group says the UN has been slow to react to the worsening crisis in the east which is developing into a Hutu-Tutsi war.
The Congolese army has threatened an all-out offensive against both Tutsi and Hutu militias in the region.
Refugees have been streaming across the border into Uganda in their thousands.
More than 370,000 villagers have been displaced by the fighting in the Kivus since the start of this year and an estimated 8,000 have crossed the border since the weekend.
The BBC's East Africa correspondent Karen Allen says observers fear the fighting could develop into a proxy war between Hutus and Tutsis on Congolese soil.
Dissident Gen Laurent Nkunda accuses the Congolese army of receiving backing from Rwandan Hutus - the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) - who fled into DR Congo after the genocide in 1994.
The HRW report documents the ongoing rapes and murders that are blamed on all sides.
KEY FORCES IN THE KIVUS
FLNK - new group made up mainly of Congolese Mai Mai with some Rwandan Hutus formerly in the FDLR
FDLR - Hutu militia made up of former Rwandan soldiers and others who fled into Congo after the 1994 genocide
FARDC - Congolese army
Gen Laurent Nkunda, with an estimated 5,000 soldiers
Monuc - UN Mission in the DR Congo
It has accused Kinshasa of following what it calls "a confusing and contradictory" course in its dealings with the FDLR, seen as a destabilising factor in the east.
United Nations peacekeepers serving in the region have been powerless to intervene in the battles between government forces and three separate militias.
The government in Kinshasa has threatened an all-out offensive against both the Mai Mai and Gen Nkunda's forces which have ignored deadlines to lay down their weapons.
The report says more must be done to assure the security of civilians in the face of threats of this major military offensive by government troops.
Speaking to the BBC on Monday, the pro-Hutu Mai Mai militia leader Kabamba Kasereka said his men would not be disarmed before the men fighting for Gen Nkunda.
The renegade general meanwhile says his 5,000-strong militia is defending Congolese Tutsis against attacks by Hutus from the FDLR.
Members of both the Mai Mai and the FDLR have claimed to be fighting alongside the government forces.
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Published: 2007/10/23 11:53:31 GMT