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UN: Thousands of Refugees Flee to Uganda from Congo

The U.N. Refugee Agency reports up to 20,000 refugees have arrived in Uganda from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo in the past week. The agency says a recent upsurge of fighting in the Congo is causing chaos and confusion.

The U.N. Refugee Agency calls the recent outbreak of fighting in the Congo confusing. It says at least two separate conflicts are taking place and this has forced thousands of frightened civilians to flee to neighboring Uganda.

UNHCR Spokesman Ron Redmond says the refugees have entered Uganda at two crossing points along the western border. He says the two groups appear to have fled the Congo for unrelated reasons.

"A group of 5,000 to 7,000 arrived by boat across Lake Albert to the village of Nkondo, which is west of Kampala. They say they left their homes in the Ituri region of the DRC because of fighting between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups. Another group of 10,100 people arrived in Ishasha which is further to the south of Lake Edward. They say they fled the north Kivu region of the DRC because of renewed fighting between the RDC - Goma and the Mayi-Mayi militia groups."

Mr. Redmond says his agency has received reports that more refugees are on their way.

On Saturday, he says aid workers transferred more than 150 refugees from Nkondo to a permanent settlement which, until last week, hosted 8,000 Congolese refugees. He says this group was among the 5,000-7,000 people who had crossed Lake Albert by boat and were stuck at the bottom of a sharp escarpment or cliff. He says another 170 refugees will be moved to the camp on Tuesday.

Mr. Redmond says the majority of the newcomers who are women and children are reluctant to leave the border area until their husbands and fathers arrive.

"This is quite a source of concern to us since there are very serious health risks where the refugees are currently staying," he said. "Many are already in poor health. There is no sanitation at the site where they are waiting. They are drinking water from a lake. The landing site where they arrived is at the bottom of a sharp escarpment which is accessible only by small trucks going down a very precarious road."

Mr. Redmond says it only is possible to provide these people with basic assistance, such as water, some food rations and medical screening.

He says aid workers are traveling to the second arrival site along the shores of Lake Edward to work out ways of moving these people to a more permanent settlement. He notes this area is only three kilometers from an unmanned border, which makes them subject to possible cross-border attack.