Thousands flee as UN, Congolese army battle rebels

October 28th, 2008 - 8:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Nairobi/Kibumba, Oct 28 (DPA) Thousands of refugees continued to pour toward the eastern Congolese town of Goma Tuesday as Congo troops and UN peacekeepers battled the forces of renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda.UN helicopter gunships and armoured vehicles have been supporting Congolese troops north of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, as Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) presses toward the town.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Congo said that on Monday the CNDP fired five rockets at two UN armed personnel carriers protecting the fleeing civilians.

Alan Doss, head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, told the BBC that the UN had no choice but to join the fight.

“We can’t allow population centres to be threatened,” Doss said. “We had to engage.”

UN said Tuesday that its helicopters had opened fire on CNDP positions near Kibumba, which lies about 20 km north of Goma.

The UN-backed Radio Okapi reported heavy clashes in Kibumba Tuesday and other reports said that government troops were withdrawing from the town.

Fighting has also broken out near the town of Rutshuru, 100 km north of Goma, prompting plans to evacuate foreign aid workers based there.

Despite the UN’s intervention, angry demonstrators stoned UN compounds in Goma Monday and Tuesday, saying that peacekeepers had failed to do enough to protect civilians.

Tens of thousands of civilians have in the last few days fled the advance of the rebels toward Goma, which Nkunda has threatened to take.

Nkunda’s CNDP and other groups in January signed peace accords designed to end sporadic clashes that occurred in 2007, four years after the war in the sprawling Central African nation officially ended.

However, the CNDP and government soldiers have been involved in repeated firefights in the eastern North and South Kivu provinces since late August.

Aid agencies say well over 100,000 civilians have fled the renewed fighting since August.

Over five million people are estimated to have died as a result of the long conflict in the resource-rich nation, most of them due to hunger and disease.

The conflict is often referred to as the African World War owing to the large number of different armed forces involved.

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