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SLUG: 2-321057 Congo / Fighting (L-O)
HEADLINE: Thousands of Civilians Flee Fresh Fighting in Eastern Congo
INTRO: Following the outbreak of renewed fighting in eastern Congo, a local government official says about seven-thousand civilians have had to flee their homes. In the eastern town of Goma, a protest against large-scale government troop deployments to eastern Congo turned violent when police fired guns to disperse the crowd.
TEXT: A local administrator in the lawless border region between Congo and Rwanda has said thousands of civilians have had to flee their homes after a fresh round of fighting in eastern Congo.
Jean Shweka, the administrator of Minova a town in eastern Congo's South Kivu province, says about seven-thousand civilians had fled fighting in neighboring North Kivu and were now taking shelter in his town.
He said that the fighting, which broke out Wednesday and, in his view involved heavy weaponry, has died down. But he said it is still not possible to confirm the number of casualties or which of the many armed groups operating in eastern Congo were involved in the clashes.
Congo's five-year war is officially over and a transitional government is trying to shepherd the vast African nation to elections next year, but the peace process has come to a halt, largely because of the continued presence of armed groups in the east.
Fears of renewed hostilities in the region have been raised during the past two weeks by threats from neighboring Rwanda to send its army into Congo to hunt down Rwandan Hutu rebels based in the east. The United Nations says it is almost certain that Rwandan troops already are in Congo, but Rwanda denies its men have crossed the border.
Meanwhile, several-thousand Rwandan-speaking Congolese in the border town of Goma protested the planned deployments of Congolese troops in the region, saying this would stir up anti-Rwandan prejudices and spark violence.
A U.N. spokeswoman in Goma said the protest turned violent when taunters threw stones at the protesters and the police opened fire to disperse the crowd. Xavier Nzabara, the mayor of the town, said that as many as four people may have been killed in the chaos.
Mounting insecurity in eastern Congo, the lack of a unified army, and rising tensions with Rwanda have stoked fears the Democratic Republic of Congo is on the verge of yet another war. (SIGNED)
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