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Page last updated at 17:01 GMT, Friday, 18 April 2008 18:01 UK

Villages 'discovered' in DR Congo

Putting villages on the map

Hundreds of villagers are helping to map parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo where thick forest and conflict have prevented effective mapping.

So far about 190 villages have been found in one area of Bandundu province where old maps show only 30, UK-based charity The Rainforest Foundation says.

Most maps are produced from satellite images taken from above, but this project is using handheld GPS units.

The map is intended to aid post-war planning and timber permit allocations.

A five-year conflict in DR Congo ended in 2003.

Resource-rich

"In one of the sectors of the territory that the groups are mapping at the moment, there are something like 190 villages but on the official map there are about 30," Cath Long of the Rainforest Foundation which is organising the project told the BBC's Network Africa.

She said millions of Congolese depend on the forest for their existence.

"The real worry is that permits to cut timber, permits to extract resources will be given to external companies without recognising the fact that people are already there and already using the forest," she said.

The charity hopes the map will be ready for a government meeting in May on forest and land.

The government has already allocated parts of the territory to 11 logging concessions, it says.

DR Congo is home to one of the word's largest rainforests and has huge reserves of gold, diamonds, copper and coltan, used to make mobile phones.

Correspondents say these riches have been a key factor in the civil wars, instability and bad government the country has known since independence.


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