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Congo Fighting Threatens 15,000 Displaced Civilians

By Selah Hennessy
Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo
07 December 2007

Government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo are making military gains against rebel fighters in the east. But military victories are pushing combat north, towards displacement camps that hold thousands of civilians. The U.N. is calling it an emergency situation, but no plan has yet been announced to protect the displaced people. Selah Hennessy reports for VOA from Goma.

General Babacar Gaye is the force commander of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the DRC.

He says government troops are pushing the rebels north, towards a town called Kirolirwe.

"There is a need for the Congolese authorities to warn the population that they need to leave this area as soon as possible because unfortunately there will be operation I'm afraid in Kirolirwe," said Gaye.

He says the military is still working with humanitarian organizations, and the population itself, to decide where the civilians should go.

"It is not decided yet where they are going to move but the best solution would be for them to have a safe haven for them somewhere-maybe towards east or towards west or towards south, rather than towards north," said Gaye.

Around 40,000 civilians live in Kirolirwe, including around 15,000 internally displaced people.

U.N. spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux says the majority of the displaced are ethnic Tutsis.

Rebel leader Nkunda says he is fighting to protect ethnic Tutsis from ethnic Hutu former rebels, who he says are supported by the Congolese government.

Bonnardeaux says displaced Tutsis are inclined to support Nkunda rather than the national army. He adds there have been reports of Nkunda's forces recruiting in displacement camps.

There have also been reports of the rebel leader using the population as a human shield.

Meanwhile, food delivery to displacement camps is suspended, after the UN World Food Program this week blocked aid delivery due to insecurity in the region.

Aya Shneerson, director of the World Food Program in the provinces of North and South Kivu, says she hopes some deliveries will begin again soon. But, she says, with displaced people again forced to flee their camps, delivering aid will be even harder.

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