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Page last updated at 12:00 GMT, Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Rebels 'seize' Congo border town

Laurent Nkunda's fighters near Bunagana in eastern DR Congo
The rebels say they want to take the regional capital, Goma

Rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo say they have taken the town of Rutshuru near the Ugandan border.

Fierce fighting is continuing for a third day around Kibumba, to the south.

The BBC's Thomas Fessy is just a few kilometres from the frontline and says he can hear loud explosions, while UN helicopter gunships fly overhead.

The 17,000-strong UN force in DR Congo has been accused of not doing enough to halt the rebel advance and its head has appealed for more troops.

The rebels led by renegade General Laurent Nkunda say they want to take the regional capital, Goma, 30km south of Kibumba, where thousands of civilians have fled.

Our reporter says after the seizure of Rutshuru, Gen Nkunda's men now control a long stretch of the road to Goma.

Neighbouring Rwanda has been accused of backing Gen Nkunda, who left the army and launched his own low-level rebellion after DR Congo's civil war ended.

On Tuesday evening, Congolese President Joseph Kabila sent two envoys to Kigali to discuss the crisis. But Rwanda continues to deny it has anything to do with the conflict.

A Congolese army tank
We simply cannot send teams out into the countryside... it's too dangerous; it's anarchy
UNHCR's Ron Redmond

"They have been accusing us but wrongly. Rwanda has never intervened in the Congo ever since we left on 5 October 2002," Joseph Mutaboba, the Rwandan president's special envoy to the Great Lakes, told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

Rwanda has twice invaded its much larger neighbour, saying it wants to stop Hutu rebels from operating there.

It claims that two rebel brigades are fighting with the Congolese army.

Mr Kabila has appealed for a multi-national force to help restore order.

The UN Security Council late on Tuesday called for an immediate ceasefire and issued a statement in which it "strongly condemned the offensive operations" against its peacekeepers.

UN forces have been using attack helicopters and tanks to try to stop the rebel advance, but they say the rebels work in small groups, making them difficult to locate and repulse.

Alan Doss, the head of the UN mission in DR Congo (Monuc), told the BBC his forces were stretched to the limit and needed urgent reinforcements.

He said his troops, the largest peacekeeping force in the world, would do their utmost to stop major towns in the region from falling to the Tutsi rebels led by Gen Nkunda.

"We are going to remain there, and we are going to act against any effort to take over a city or major population centre by force," he said from Kinshasa, the Congolese capital.

Refugee crisis

Rutshuru houses tens of thousands of displaced people and dozens of aid workers are usually based there.

A UN worker said thousands of people were fleeing Rutshuru heading toward the Ugandan border to the north.

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Thousands flee Congo fighting

An estimated 20,000 people have already fled towards Goma, many of them having left a refugee camp in Kibumba as the fighting approached on Monday.

About 200,000 people fled their homes after fighting resumed in the area in late August.

Ron Redmond of the UN refugee agency says it almost impossible to reach those in need of help.

Laurent Nkunda

"We simply cannot send teams out into the countryside. There's too much fighting going on; it's too dangerous; it's anarchy," he said.

Gen Nkunda says he is fighting to protect the minority Tutsi community from the Hutu militia which carried out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

But Alistair Dutton, Christian Aid humanitarian manager for Africa, told the BBC that the fighting was also for control of resources.

Eastern DR Congo is rich in gold and other minerals, such as coltan, used in mobile phones.

A peace deal was signed in Goma between the government and various rebel groups at the end of January.

Although he signed the deal, Gen Nkunda - whose main strongholds are in Kichanga in the Masisi Mountains and Bunagana town bordering Uganda - has always refused to disarm while Rwandan Hutu rebels still operate in the area.

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