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Refugees Flee to Uganda to Escape Fighting in DRC


About 20,000 people fleeing recent violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have crossed into Uganda during the past few days. The refugees are reluctant to move further into Uganda.

The refugees began arriving late last week and have temporarily settled in two areas near the Congo border.

A spokesman for the Uganda office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Mostafa Khezry, tells VOA the areas are isolated, hard to get to, and are too close to the border.

According to U.N. policy, he explains, the refugees need to be relocated further into Uganda for safety reasons. He says the Ugandan government has agreed to relocate the refugees, but they themselves do not want to move.

"The problem here is that some of them do not wish to be removed at the moment. They would like just to basically stick close to the border with the hope that the situation in their places of origin improves and they can repatriate," he said.

Khezry says his agency and others such as the World Food Program (WFP) and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) were able to get to where the refugees are to deliver basic items such as drinking water, blankets, jerry cans, and plastic sheeting.

But, he says, they still need more drinking water, food and other supplies, and the aid agencies are assessing the situation.

Among the refugees includes more than 80 fighters who have been disarmed and are being held separately.

The refugee influx follows more than four days of fighting that began Thursday when insurgents loyal to ex-army commander Laurent Nkunda began attacking the Congolese army. Nkunda and his group rejected a peace process to end the Democratic Republic of Congo's long-running war.

The insurgents briefly occupied several towns and villages. About 50,000 people fled to escape the fighting.

On Sunday, the insurgents attacked a group of U.N. peacekeepers traveling to the town of Rwindi about 150-kilometers north of the eastern town of Goma.

The peacekeepers were able to repel the attack and take control of the Rwindi area.

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