Big battles near key Congo town

Other News Materials 28 October 2008 22:31 (UTC +04:00)

Government troops and UN forces have been involved fierce battles with Tutsi rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, around Kibumba village, BBC reports.

General Laurent Nkunda's fighters have also opened up a new front 50km further north in Rubare, a village in the Virunga National Park, near Uganda.

Rebels say their next target is the nearby regional capital Goma, where an estimated 20,000 people are fleeing.

They slept overnight in the rain - there was no aid because of insecurity.

"We are having a lot of problems because we don't have food and we don't have water," Nick Bampengo, one of those fleeing, said.

The pro-government Congolese Le Potentiel newspaper based in the capital, Kinshasa, is alleging that two battalions from the Rwandan army are fighting with Gen Nkunda's men.

Rwanda has been accused of backing Gen Nkunda, who left the army and launched his own low-level rebellion after DR Congo's civil war ended. He says he is fighting to protect the minority Tutsi community from the Hutu militia who carried out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Enlarged map of the fighting

The BBC's Thomas Fessy in the region says one peacekeeper has been injured in the heavy battles around Kibumba - which housed a displacement camp for those already displaced by fighting in the region.         

He says it is unclear whether the village has fallen to the rebels.

On Tuesday morning, trucks of Congolese soldiers escorted by UN light-tanks were racing back towards Goma from Kibumba - although our reporter was unable to ascertain if they were withdrawing or changing positions.

UN forces used attack helicopters and tanks to try to stop the rebel advance, but they say the rebels work in small groups, making them difficult to locate and repulse.

A spokesman for Gen Nkunda says Goma, 30km south of Kibumba, is their next target.

Our reporter says it is extremely tense in the city.

On Monday the UN headquarters there was stoned and one civilian was killed in demonstrations as people expressed their anger at what they see as the 17,000-strong UN force's failure to protect them.

UN vehicles were again stoned on Tuesday morning and riot police have been deployed across the city to prevent further demonstrations.

Meanwhile, the UN says fighting also broke out on Tuesday morning near the Ugandan border town of Rutshuru.

At around 0600 local time (0300GMT), Gen Nkunda's fighters attacked Rubare, not far from where UN armoured personnel carriers were fired upon on Sunday.

Rutshuru houses tens of thousands of displaced people, some of whom are reported to be fleeing towards Uganda.

Reuters news agency reports that the UN is preparing to evacuate foreign aid workers from the town as the rebels advance.

"Normally there are around 50 staff in Rutshuru and surrounding areas," a UN spokesman told the agency.

Over the weekend the rebels captured a major army camp at Rumangabo and the headquarters of Virunga National Park.

A peace deal was signed in Goma between the government and various rebel groups at the end of January.

Although he signed the deal, Gen Nkunda - whose main strongholds are in Kichanga in the Masisi Mountains and Bunagana town bordering Uganda - has always refused to disarm while Rwandan Hutu rebels still operate in the area.

About 200,000 people fled their homes after fighting resumed in the area in late August.

The United Nations says many refugees are malnourished and some are dying of hunger.

Ron Redmond of the UN refugee agency says it almost impossible to reach those in need of help.

"We simply cannot send teams out into the countryside. There's too much fighting going on; it's too dangerous; it's anarchy," he said.

"There are already some 800,000 to a million people internally displaced in this region, so it's really a huge population in need of help."