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Page last updated at 21:47 GMT, Friday, 31 October 2008

DR Congo refugee camps 'burned'

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Congo refugees struggle for aid

The UN refugee agency says it has credible reports camps sheltering 50,000 refugees in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have been destroyed.

Reports suggest the camps were forcibly emptied and looted before being burned.

Aid groups say they are struggling to reach an estimated 250,000 people in the region fleeing fierce fighting between government and rebel forces.

The EU said the presidents of DR Congo and Rwanda had agreed to attend an emergency summit in the coming weeks.

After meetings in the region, Louis Michel, the European humanitarian aid commissioner, said Rwanda's Paul Kagame had his Congolese counterpart Jospeh Kabila would meet in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

Mr Michel said renegade rebel general Laurent Nkunda had not yet been asked to join the talks.

The commissioner told the BBC: "This conference has to have the kind of road map with complete monitoring system to assess if people who have signed this kind of agreement have delivered."

A ceasefire is holding in and around Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, but aid agency chiefs say the situation remains highly volatile.

Stampede

Food and water are scarce, and aid agencies have all but stopped work.

The BBC's Orla Guerin witnessed scenes of chaos at a refugee camp in Kibati on the outskirts of Goma, as desperately hungry people stampeded.

Children were trampled underfoot and panicked aid staff were forced to beat back the heaving crowd.

Congolese soldier with refugee women in Goma - 30/10/2008

Our correspondent managed to pluck to safety one little girl who was knocked over in the melee and reunite her with her father.

Gen Nkunda's forces are positioned some 15km (nine miles) from Goma.

The origin of the ongoing conflict in eastern DR Congo is the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda.

Gen Nkunda says he is fighting to protect his Tutsi community from attack by Rwandan Hutu rebels, some of whom are accused of taking part in the genocide.

The Congolese government has often promised to stop Hutu forces from using its territory, but has not done so.

There have also been accusations of collusion between DR Congo's army and Hutu guerrillas.

The Congolese government, for its part, has accused Rwanda of backing Gen Nkunda.

Rwanda denies this, but it has twice invaded its much larger neighbour in recent years.

'Extremely unsafe'

The UNHCR refugee agency said it was very concerned at reports that the camps in Rutshuru, 90km (56 miles) north of Goma, had been destroyed.

UN peacekeeper in Goma, 31 Oct 2008
UN troops are struggling to prevent an escalation

"There are some 50,000 people who were in those camps. We don't know where they would be, we're afraid that they may have just dispersed off into the bush," spokesman Ron Redmond said.

Gen Nkunda said on Thursday that he was opening a "humanitarian corridor" for people to return to their homes.

Those who did reach Kibati told the BBC that they had more chance of getting food in the forests and bushes around the village than inside Goma.

Gen Nkunda has threatened to take the city unless UN peacekeepers guarantee the ceasefire and security there.

The UN has more than 17,000 peacekeeping troops in DR Congo - the largest UN force in the world - but correspondents say it is struggling to cope with the crisis.

Looting, killings and rapes were reported in the city on Thursday, much of it blamed on retreating Congolese troops.

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