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Some Congolese Go Hungry as Fighting Causes Spike in Food Prices

Food prices are skyrocketing in eastern Congo's volatile North Kivu province as Laurent Nkunda's rebels and the Congolese army engage in what aid workers and the United Nations are calling a "game" of stopping and taxing commercial traffic or turning it back altogether. U.N. agencies say the situation can potentially affect 3.5 million people in North Kivu; and Congolese women say they are now struggling to feed their families.

Humanitarian aid workers say dissident Congolese General Laurent Nkunda's rebel National Congress for the People's Defense, known as the CNDP, and the Congolese armed forces, called the FARDC, are responsible for rising prices.

Louis Vigneault, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Goma, told VOA roadblocks have been set up around Masisi, the agricultural capital of North Kivu.

"FARDC and CNDP are sort of playing a game right now in Masisi of blocking each other's commercial traffic. So they're blocking all imports of salt, oil, basic manufactured goods in Masisi and at the same time they're blocking all exports of farming products like bananas," he said.

U.N. officials say rising food prices are not affecting North Kivu's 370,000 internally displaced people, who receive food from U.N. agencies.

But they say an estimated three million people who have not been displaced from their homes may be affected by rising food prices.

The problem is particularly severe for thousands of already impoverished Congolese women, who are now finding it harder to feed their families.

Mukobo Ajani, who sells potatoes in Goma's central market, says the trucks are always stopped in the road now by Laurent Nkunda's troops. She had to raise the price of potatoes because sometimes she can not get through at all. She says people will not even buy potatoes anymore and they call her a thief.

Janine Maombi, another Congolese woman and is an unemployed widow, says she came to buy potatoes but the price is too high. She has six children and can not afford to buy them dinner tonight.

Humanitarian aid workers say tension is growing between Goma's population of 160,000 and some 30,000 displaced people on the outskirts of Goma who are receiving food from U.N. agencies.

North Kivu has been plagued by insecurity since Nkunda launched his rebellion late last year.

The dissident general says he is trying to protect Congo's Tutsi population from attacks by Rwandan Hutu rebels who flooded into Congo following the Rwandan genocide.

Analysts and observers say Nkunda is also protecting the economic and political interests of a select group of wealthy Congolese Tutsis.