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DR of Congo: 20,000 fleeing fighting in east in 'critical humanitarian state' - UN

26 July 2004 Nearly 20,000 people are in a "critical humanitarian state" in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after fleeing renewed fighting between central government forces and dissident troops around Lake Kivu, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs OCHA.

"We saw entire columns of people leaving the Kalehe zone," Jean-Marc Cordaro, head of OCHA's office in Bukavu at the southern end of the lake, said after leading an assessment mission to the area on Saturday together with staff from OCHA's office in Goma, at the northern end.

"Targeted killings have occurred," said Patrick Lavand'Homme, head of the Goma office, quoting eyewitness accounts from the refugees. "Homes have been burned, sometimes with people inside."

Some 15,000 people have taken refuge along the banks of Lake Kivu, after fleeing the fighting between the DRC's armed forces (FARDC) and dissident leader Gen. Laurent Nkunda. Nearly 5,000 others fled to the High Plateaux region south-west of Minova following abuses by soldiers and armed groups in the Kalehe area.

OCHA's offices in Bukavu and Goma are working on how best to coordinate emergency aid for the vulnerable communities.

Although the local population has provided help for the new arrivals, food supplies could run out. With gastroenteritis and malaria rife, medical aid will also be needed. All social infrastructure has been destroyed and Kalehe's health centres no longer function. Help for the High Plateaux area can only be brought in by air, Mr. Lavand'Homme said. Mr. Cordero added that river transport would be necessary for the others.

Gen. Nkunda and his fellow rebels briefly took Bukavu city in June, claiming mistreatment of their Banyamulenge (Congolese Tutsi) ethnic group.

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