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Tuesday, 4 July, 2000, 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK
Thousands flee DR Congo violence
DR Congo refugees
Refugees are sheltering in makeshift camps
Thousands of civilians are fleeing their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo following renewed clashes between rebel and government forces.

UN officials estimate that up to 10,000 people have been forced into neighbouring Congo after the violence erupted near Mbandaka, an important town on the Congo river held by government forces.


According to the United Nations relief agency, the UNHCR, many refugees are now sheltering in makeshift camps set up on the outskirts of villages in eastern Congo.

A UN spokesman said some relief supplies had been delivered to the refugees, but efforts were being hampered by the continued violence.

The clashes come only days after several neighbouring countries urged the United Nations to hasten the deployment of UN observers and peacekeepers.

It is unclear how heavy the latest fighting has been.

Ultimatum

The rebel forces in the region are led by Jean-Pierra Bemba, whose Congolese Liberation Movement is backed by Uganda.

When a BBC correspondent contacted him at his base by telephone, Mr Bemba said that there had been some clashes between his troops and government forces, and that he expected a lot more.

Rebel leader Jean Pierre Bemba
Jean-Pierre Bemba expects further fighting

Mr Bemba said the fighting broke out after what he said was an ultimatum issued by the government side, apparently telling him to clear his troops out of the area.

Meanwhile in Congo, the refugees' presence is reported to be putting pressure on the local infrastructure.

A UNHCR spokesman said the agency had managed to deliver emergency supplies such as fishing-nets, hoses and jerrycans to some of refugees.

But access was difficult because the supplies had to be taken by river on motorised canoes, and there was a risk of these being intercepted by troops or caught up in fighting taking place close to the shore.

The UN wants to send 5,000 peacekeepers and observers to the Democratic Republic of Congo, but wants to be satisfied first that peace is holding.

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See also:

02 Jul 00 | Africa
Leaders reaffirm Kisangani pact
30 Jun 00 | Africa
Timeline: DR Congo conflict
30 Jun 00 | Africa
Congo's unhappy birthday
14 Jun 00 | Africa
Rivals agree to quit Congo city
05 May 00 | Africa
UN failing in Africa
25 May 00 | Africa
UN to monitor Congo pull-out
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