Thousands flee renewed violence in Congo

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

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Thousands of civilians fled their homes on Saturday amid fierce fighting between local militias and Tutsi-dominated rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the U.N. peacekeeping mission there.

Congolese Army Colonel Delphin Kahimbi said that "very violent attacks" had been reported, and that the fighting was between local militia known as Mai-Mai and rebels loyal to renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda. Major P.K. Tiwari, a military spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission, said the fighting "started early this morning and ended late this afternoon." Tiwari said it was not clear who had attacked first.

Sylvie Van Den Wildenberg, a spokeswoman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission, described the suffering of civilians caught in the fighting as "unbearable". "What I saw was horrendous. It was raining. They didn't know where to go. Three women gave birth while they were fleeing," she said. "The humanitarian consequences of whatever is happening there are very serious."

Since the beginning of the year, 370,000 people have already fled their homes in the province of Nord-Kivu amid fighting between Congo's army, Rwandan Hutu rebels, and rebels loyal to Nkunda. Nkunda accuses Congo's army of supporting the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a primarily Hutu rebel group that includes soldiers responsible for the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. The Congolese army consistently denies this charge.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Congolese President Joseph Kabila said the army had been authorized to prepare military operations to disarm Nkunda's rebels, of which there are approximately 5,000. Kabila has ruled out the possibility of negotiating with Nkunda.


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