Sat, Nov 29, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Congo refugees flee to Uganda

FRESH SKIRMISHESUN officials said about 13,000 people had fled to the frontier town of Isaha in the last two days after the latest hostilities broke out in the east of DR Congo

AFP , KINSHASA

A displaced Congolese boy peers through a hole in a tent near the base of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda in Lushebere in the Massasi district, 50km northeast of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Thursday.

PHOTO: AFP

About 10,000 refugees fled across the border with Uganda on Thursday following fresh skirmishes between rebels and pro-government fighters in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said about 13,000 people had made for the frontier town of Ishasa over the last 48 hours, escaping hostilities pitting the main rebel army against Mai-Mai militia and exiled Rwandan Hutu fighters.

“UNHCR staff at the south-west Ugandan border town of Ishasha said that since Tuesday afternoon an estimated 13,000 Congolese refugees had crossed the border from the eastern province’s Rutshuru district, including some 10,000 on Thursday,” a statement said.

Yumiko Takashima, the leader of a UNHCR emergency team, said about 1,000 refugees were moved on Thursday to a safer location at Nakivale, some 350km to the east. Several thousand more were expecting to leave yesterday.

The new arrivals told UNHCR team members that they were fleeing fresh fighting in the area around Rutshuru.

“The assailants killed everybody in my village. They took the young boys with them and killed all the rest of the population,” said 25-year-old Daudi, who walked 60km from Kiwanga to the border, without specifying who the assailants were.

Rebels said their positions around Kiwanga were challenged by pro-Kinshasa allies.

“In the face of this threat, we took preventive action,” said Bertrand Bisimwa, spokesman for Tutsi ex-general Laurent Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), although Bisimwa underlined that there had been “skirmishes rather than fighting.”

He said the Mai-Mai and the Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda had been halted some 4km north of Kiwanja, which lies some 80km from the regional capital of Goma.

The Mai-Mai spokesman in Nord-Kivu Province, Didier Bitaki, said the CNDP was “trying to advance toward Ishasha.”

Bisimwa later said that Ishasa “is in our hands,” adding that “several days of [CNDP] military police operations” had secured the Kiwanja-Ishasa corridor.

The UN mission in DR Congo, known as MONUC, said on Wednesday that the CNDP had launched new military operations in the area, amounting to a “ceasefire violation.”

UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s special envoy Olusegun Obasanjo will meet with Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Nkunda for a second time this weekend.

Obasanjo is due to be joined at talks by former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa. A senior Libyan foreign affairs official, Abdel Salam Triki, is also in town.

The 47-member UN Human Rights Council was also due to hold a special session yesterday to discuss the conflict.

Ahead of the session, called by western countries and campaigners, Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay urged an end to the “cycle of sexual violence, bloodshed and destruction” in the sprawling central African nation.

“Recent reports suggest an escalation of sexual violence in its most brutal forms — committed by all sides in the conflict, including soldiers belonging to the national army,” Pillay said.

“Thousands upon thousands of women have been raped over the past decade and hardly any of their attackers have been brought to justice,” he said.

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