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Wednesday, 6 September, 2000, 21:13 GMT 22:13 UK
Humanitarian crisis in eastern Congo

By Andrew Harding in Shabunda, eastern Congo

Aid agencies say more than 1m civilians have now been forced by fighting to flee their homes in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A rebel army backed by neighbouring Rwanda is battling a collection of militia groups who are accused of terrorising the local population.

RCD rebel
The rebels: defending or occupying eastern Congo?
The years of conflict have created a humanitarian crisis, but security concerns mean that little outside help has reached the worst-affected areas such as Shabunda.

Some 10,000 civilians are trapped there, unable even to venture into the nearby fields to farm their crops for fear of being kidnapped or worse.

Isolated and under siege

The only way to get to Shabunda is by plane, and even that can be risky.

A small, isolated town deep in the jungle, Shabunda is under siege, caught up in a long, complicated war which few locals understand, let alone support.

The thick green forests of eastern Congo have become a battleground for a bewildering collection of fanatical militia, bandits and rebel armies.

Kisangani, damaged by fighting between Rwandan and Ugandan troops
The war has produced little but misery
A militia group known as the Mai Mai roams the forests outside town.

It is accused of terrorising civilians, stealing cattle and burning villages.

Many victims have emerged from the forests after weeks on the run.

More than 100 women and children packed a makeshift canteen in Shabunda waiting for food.

No aid

Twenty-five-year-old Jertrid Awezai said she and her five children had been kidnapped by the Mai Mai in June.

Others told similar stories of living for weeks in the forest without food or shelter.

This part of eastern Congo is nominally controlled by the rebels: their troops are in Shabunda defending the town but, in a sense, occupying it too.

Almost no humanitarian aid has reached the area for seven months.

Ambushes

Most international aid agencies have pulled out because of the security risks.

Ambushes on the roads are commonplace.

At least six countries are involved in the war in Congo.

A ceasefire is in force, partially, but a low-level conflict rumbles on, bringing malnutrition, fear and misery to millions of civilians.

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See also:

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
21 Jul 00 | Africa
Kisangani fears more fighting
30 Jul 00 | Africa
UN calls for pressure on Kabila
03 Aug 00 | Africa
New ethnic violence in Congo
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