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Page last updated at 12:45 GMT, Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Plea to halt DR Congo atrocities

Two displaced mothers and children at a camp near Goma, 15 Nov
An estimated 250,000 people have been made homeless by the fighting

Community groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo have made an impassioned plea for European troops to be sent to halt atrocities there.

They say they have witnessed scenes never seen in their history, and that UN peacekeepers are powerless.

Meanwhile, rebel forces have begun to withdraw from some of their positions in east as promised.

The withdrawal is taking place ahead of talks due between the rebels loyal to Laurent Nkunda, the army and the UN.

Clashes between the army and the rebel forces of Gen Nkunda have driven an estimated 250,000 people from their homes and created a humanitarian crisis in recent weeks.

READ THE LETTER IN FULL

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The BBC's Mark Doyle is in the region and says the 44 groups who signed the letter range from women's organisations to church groups and are the closest thing to the authentic voice of the community.

The letter, addressed to the UN Security Council and international leaders, details how civilians have been summarily executed and corpses line the streets.

"We don't know which saint to pray to; we are condemned to death by all this violence and displacement. We have been abandoned," it says.

At present, the UN mission in DR Congo (Monuc) is made up of 17,000 soldiers and police - the biggest UN force of its kind.

The community groups said Monuc witnessed all atrocities, but was "powerless".

"At times, its interventions are delayed, if not ineffective. We can therefore no longer continue to rely on Monuc to protect us," their letter says.

Next week, the UN is to consider a French resolution to increase the number of UN troops in the country by 3,000.

After talks with UN envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, General Nkunda offered on Tuesday to pull his forces back 40km (25 miles) on two fronts around the towns of Kanyabayonga and Kiwanja, north of the regional capital, Goma.

FORCES AROUND GOMA
Army soldiers in eastern DR Congo
CNDP: Gen Nkunda's Tutsi rebels - 6,000 fighters
FDLR: Rwandan Hutus - 6-7,000
Mai Mai: pro-government militia - 3,500
Monuc: UN peacekeepers - 6,000 in North Kivu, including about 1,000 in Goma (17,000 nationwide)
DRC army - 90,000 (nationwide)
Source: UN, military experts

Mr Nkunda said he wanted the UN to police the vacated territory.

Our correspondent says that whatever happens on the front line, the rebels are highly unlikely to compromise on their political objectives or voluntarily weaken their overall military position.

The UN has accused both sides of atrocities.

This week, a military tribunal in Goma sentenced 11 soldiers to life in prison for rape and looting. Another 12 soldiers face court martial in the coming week - one accused of killing a family of six in Goma on 29 October.

Gen Nkunda says he is fighting to protect all minorities, in particular his Tutsi community, from attacks by Rwandan FDLR Hutu rebels who fled to DR Congo after the 1994 genocide.

The Congolese army has been accused of working with the FDLR fighters to exploit eastern DR Congo's rich mineral resources.

The DR Congo government says Gen Nkunda is backed by neighbouring Rwanda - a charge denied by Rwanda's government.

Map of eastern DR Congo



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