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 Friday, 3 January, 2003, 13:05 GMT
Thousands flee DR Congo fighting
Rebecca Kwekinai and her children in a camp north of Beni [pic: Tearfund]
Most fled without any possessions
Recent fighting between rival rebel factions in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has forced more than 110,000 people to flee their homes, aid agencies say.

Even though the rebel factions battling for control of the region signed a ceasefire agreement on Monday, the area around the mineral-rich town of Beni, near the border with Uganda, remains tense.

The BBC's Helen Vesperini in Beni says there is fighting 50km north-west of Beni, and 80km north of the city between the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) and two rival factions of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD).

She says the situation is very confusing, with both parties accusing the other of violating Monday's ceasefire by resuming the fighting.

Humanitarian agencies supplying desperately needed food and medical supplies to residents say many are still on the move.

Appalling abuse

Nicolas Louis from the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, told the BBC from Beni that people had run away from their homes terrified of the soldiers who started their advance on the town in the week before Christmas.

"There was panic as the frontline got nearer, and they simply voted with their feet," he said.

Mr Louis said the displaced include many Pygmy hunter-gatherers who, for the first time in their lives, had been forced out of their forest homes.

Ambanya Estella and her grand-children in a camp north of Beni [pic: Tearfund]
This woman's husband and two daughters have been killed by soldiers

No casualty figures have yet been given for the fighting, but Church leaders and aid workers in the region fear that appalling human rights violations have been committed.

Our correspondent in Beni says that the aim of Monday's ceasefire was that both parties should redeploy and would create a neutral zone in the middle which would be monitored by United Nations observers.

But she says that local militias attacked a UN convoy a few days ago, and that the UN is now likely to be put off deploying in that forest.

Rwandan presence?

Meanwhile, RCD rebels have been clashing with pro-government Mai-Mai militias further south, near Uvira.

The Mai-Mai say that the RCD are receiving the support of Rwandan troops, although Rwanda is supposed to have withdrawn all its soldiers from DR Congo.

Floribert Tetyabo-Tebabo in a camp north of Beni [pic: Tearfund]
This teenager has not spoken since he saw his mother and siblings being decapitated

A spokesman for the Mai-Mai, Alexandre Idirima-Zeze, told the BBC French service that 16,000 Rwandan troops remained near Uvira.

He said that they were using their tanks and armoured vehicles to kill people, and questioned the role of the UN peacekeeping force, Monuc.

"What is Monuc doing in DR Congo? he asked.

"It should denounce Rwanda's presence on Congolese territory."

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See also:

30 Dec 02 | Africa
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