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 Wednesday, 25 December, 2002, 14:20 GMT
DR Congo refugee crisis worsens
Refugees from DR Congo
Thousands more civilians face misery
Renewed fighting between rebel factions in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes, aid workers say.

Up to 70,000 people have fled Beni as rebels of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) advance towards the town, the UK-based charity Medical Emergency Relief International says.

A further advance could trigger an even bigger exodus from the town, which is currently home to about 300,000 people, the aid agency warns.

The MLC and two rival factions of the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) are battling for control of mineral-rich Ituri province near the border with Uganda.

The rebel groups are reported to be using child soldiers in the province, which is rich in diamonds, gold and timber.

On Tuesday the United Nations Security Council strongly condemned the latest upsurge in fighting.

The Council members voiced their "deep concerns over the serious violations of human rights that took place and the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians".

The statement said the fighting violated the letter and spirit of the Pretoria power-sharing deal signed on 17 December by the Kinshasa government, the main rebel groups and DR Congo's political opposition.

The statement called on all Congolese parties to immediately cease all hostilities and implement the Pretoria accord "expeditiously".

UN mission struggling

The African Union also condemned the latest fighting.

MLC rebel
The MLC controls a swathe of north-east DR Congo

It deplored "atrocities against civilians" and the displacement of non-combatants.

Despite recent support for an expansion of the UN force in Congo, peacekeepers on the ground are severely overstretched.

The conflict has also evolved from one that was originally driven mainly by political objectives to one that is fuelled increasingly by battles for control over scarce resources.

Diplomats say this message from the Council was crafted with the intention of reminding the combatants inside Congo that their actions are being followed closely at the UN and they may yet be called to account.


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See also:

23 Dec 02 | Africa
20 Dec 02 | Africa
17 Dec 02 | Africa
04 Dec 02 | Africa
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