Two European ministers promised help on Saturday to desperate refugees who have fled fighting in east Congo, but played down the idea of the European Union sending troops there to protect civilians, Reuters reported.
People driven from their homes mobbed French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Foreign Secretary David Miliband at a camp in Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province, where a recent rebel offensive triggered a humanitarian crisis.
The ministers were on a mission to gauge what aid the EU could give to Congo's government and hard-pressed United Nations peacekeepers and foreign aid workers struggling to help tens of thousands of starving, thirsty and exhausted people.
France, which holds the rotating EU presidency, this week proposed the idea of the bloc sending up to 1,500 troops to Congo to support the 17,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission there and to help deliver increased humanitarian assistance.
But while Kouchner and Miliband both said a humanitarian operation was on the cards, they indicated the option of an EU military deployment, which has encountered resistance from some European member states, was only under study.
"I don't think we're here to discuss an EU force. We're here to discuss the humanitarian situation," Miliband said at Kibati, 20 km (12 miles) north of North Kivu provincial capital Goma.
Miliband and Kouchner, who earlier met Congolese President Joseph Kabila, travelled on to neighbouring Rwanda to lobby President Paul Kagame's government to support a lasting peace deal in North Kivu. Congo and Rwanda have accused each other of backing rival rebel groups.
The recent offensive by Tutsi rebels loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda, and killings and looting by Congolese army troops, have created what foreign relief workers call a catastrophic situation in North Kivu.
But a cease-fire declared by Nkunda seemed to be holding.
While Miliband and Kouchner pledged more European aid, refugees said what they really needed was more security.
"We only want to return home. Food isn't a solution," refugee Emelie Manigera said at Kibati.