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Thousands flee fighting in Congo

By Andrew Meldrum

KINSHASA (CONGO), DEC. 21. More than 100,000 Congolese have fled renewed fighting between the Democratic Republic of Congo army and rebels in the battle-torn east of the country, United Nations officials said yesterday.

The civilians trekked deep into the mountainous jungle to escape weekend fighting around the deserted farming town of Kanyabayonga. Rebel forces gained ground, pushing Government troops back 40 km and taking control of two more villages.

``Conservatively, more than 100,000 people have run from their homes because of the fighting in the past few days,'' said Patrick Lavand'Homme of the U.N.'s office for the coordination of humanitarian assistance.

Peace plan hit

``With these new people, it means we have 800,000 displaced people in North Kivu province. Most are from fighting earlier this year and even last year.''

He said humanitarian groups were finding it difficult to assist all the refugees. ``The soldiers are looting people's homes. There is no security.''

The confusion surrounding the new fighting had also threatened the U.N.'s efforts to move ahead with its peace plan for the area.

Eastern Congo, rich in gold, diamonds and minerals and home to a myriad of armed factions, has been the scene of considerable fighting over the past four years. Its border with Rwanda is at the root of many of the troubles. —

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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