Tuesday, February 16, 1999 Published at 16:48 GMT
Congo rebels launch major offensive
Civilians are risking their lives crossing perilous Lake Tanganyika
Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo say they have launched a major new offensive against troops loyal to the government of President Laurent Kabila.
The new offensive is being launched on three fronts - at Gemena in the north, at Kabalo on the Congo River and at Moba in the east of the country.
The rebels are reported to have gained many new recruits and more sophisticated weapons.
It is feared their new attack will undermine peace efforts led by the Zambian President, Frederick Chiluba.
Refugees fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo have told the BBC of widespread atrocities being committed against civilians by rebel soldiers.
The rebels accuse President Kabila, whom they helped to power, of being undemocratic.
Thousands of refugees are reported to be fleeing areas in the east of the country to seek shelter in Tanzania.
The refugees are risking a perilous crossing of Lake Tanganyika, Africa's deepest lake, to escape their country, just like two years ago, during the the war which ousted the president.
Within the territory they have taken, the rebels are battling groups of fighters known as Mai Mai. It is being alleged that each attack provokes a brutal reaction against civilians.
After a missionary group in the New Year said that 500 people were killed in one incident, the rebel leadership admitted to 10 civilians being killed by crossfire.
Eleven-year-old Jean-Marie, now being looked after by foster parents, begs to differ. He told BBC East Africa Correspondent Martin Dawes that soldiers came to his village at dusk and just started to fire - his mother and father were killed.
Hiding in the countryside
Anthony Mogar of the UN's refugee agency believes rebel patrols are now trying to stop people leaving; he has heard that two boats have been stopped and people taken off. No one is sure what has happened to them.
The Federation of the Red Cross, which helps to run the refugee camps, fears that a sudden slowdown in arrivals means that people are having to hide in the countryside and that many may be literally starving.
Young men found trying to escape are being killed. There are still hundreds a day being taken to the refugee camps.
Georg Nothelle of the Federation of the Red Cross said: "We are fully prepared for receiving 30,000 new refugees. The only problem is we don't know when they are coming and how many are coming. Whether they are coming at all. So it is a major problem for us."