Thousands flee DR Congo violence

Thousands flee DR Congo violence

Fighting between government troops and rebels has displaced hundreds of thousands people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), leading to what is being described as a humanitarian crisis.

Rebel fighters have advanced against government forces in renewed fighting on Saturday.

The fighting has been most intense in the hills of the North Kivu province in the country's east, where rebel positions were shelled by the government forces on Friday.

Many of the refugees have headed to neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda, and more are on their way.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] says about 300,000 people have been displaced because of the fighting since November's presidential and parliamentary elections.

More than 8,000 refugees have crossed into Rwanda in the past three weeks on top of 55,000 Congolese refugees already there.

"The initial challenge is shelter because the camp is over-stretched and over-congested," Anouck Bronee of UNHCR said.

Another 30,000 have gone to Uganda this month, in addition to the 175,000 other refugees from several of its neighbours.

In a statement issued earlier this week, Antonio Guterres, the UN high commissioner for refugees, said: "The displacement level we see in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo is already disastrous.

"Conflict there, coupled with very limited access for humanitarian workers, means that many thousands of people are without protection and help. And now people in need are appearing in neighbouring countries too."

The UN fears the fighting could escalate and draw in various rebel groups in the region.

The military has been fighting the rebels since late April in Masisi territory, northwest of the provincial capital of Goma.

The rebels are fighters who were integrated into the national army under a 2009 peace deal, but who later defected, complaining of poor conditions.

They have formed a new military group called the March 23 Movement (M23), comprising ex-members of the rebel National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP).

Former CNDP commander Bosco Ntaganda is accused of leading the mutiny.

Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court on a war crimes charge of enlisting child soldiers.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said he was again forcing boys into military service, accusing him of forcibly recruiting at least 149 boys aged between 12 and 20 in the latest conflict.

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