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DRC Conflict Intensifies Forcing More Civilians to Flee

By Selah Hennessy
14 December 2007

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is visiting eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR) Friday. Hundreds of thousands of civilians in eastern Congo have been forced to flee their homes since an ongoing conflict between the army and renegade troops began four months ago. Over the past two weeks the conflict has intensified, forcing thousands more civilians to flee the ensuing violence. Selah Hennessy reports for VOA from Goma.

U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) chief Antonia Guterres began his five-day visit in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Thursday.

Friday he visits Goma, the regional capital in the east.

An armed conflict, between the army and renegade troops loyal to former general Laurent Nkunda, has thrown eastern DRC into turmoil for almost four months.

In early December the army, with support from the United Nations, launched a major offensive against the renegades, pouring around 20,000 soldiers into the region.

But after initial losses, the highly-disciplined guerrilla rebels have over the last few days re-taken all the positions they lost early in the conflict.

This means some towns are being fought over repeatedly in the course of only a few days. Many civilians have had to flee fighting several times, making the long walk from their villages to safety.

The United Nations estimates around 800,000 civilians are currently displaced within the eastern North Kivu province, where most of the fighting has taken place.

U.N. field coordinator Marie Antoinette Okimba, based in Goma, says around half those civilians are living in displacement camps. Most others, she says, stay with their families in Goma and around the region.

She says those who are displaced want to return home.

"I think many of them are thinking about the security situation," she said. "I think when the security situation allows, people are going very, very quickly in their own village because they have land, they have cultivation, and they have food."

But the conflict is right now showing no sign of slowing down.

Guterres is to visit areas around Goma where those that have been displaced are sheltering, including official camps and makeshift sites that have been set up to deal with the mass onslaught of now homeless civilians.

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