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Rebels Pull Back in Eastern Congo


Rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have pulled fighters back from three front lines north of the provincial capital, Goma. Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi that U.N. officials say it is a positive development.

Rebels belonging to the National Congress for Defense of the People, led by Laurent Nkunda, pulled back from positions around the town of Kanyabayonga, about 130 kilometers north of Goma.

A U.N. spokesperson said Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon welcomed the development and called for the establishment of humanitarian corridors in the area.

But the field coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in the town of Rutshuru, in the area, Romain Gitenet, said humanitarian corridors would have little impact for the group's operations.

"Concerning Doctors Without Borders, it will not really help us," he said. "We are already in Nkunda's troops' area. Rutshuru is Nkunda troops' area. Nyanzale is Nkunda's troops' area. So we do not need corridors, we are bringing our drugs, we can go through, they let us go."

Doctors Without Borders has warned that using peacekeepers to provide humanitarian corridors can compromise the neutrality of aid organizations in the conflict. He was speaking in Nairobi, at the launch of a new Web site to highlight the long-standing humanitarian suffering in DRC, which Doctors Without Borders says remains neglected despite occasional bursts of media coverage.

"There was hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people displaced since lots of years," said Gitenet. "It is not new. It is not just from August, it is from years and years, so now you just have more displaced than before but at the beginning of 2008, the United Nations was talking already about 850,000 displaced people, and there was kind of peace at this period."

Numerous armed groups have been operating in eastern Congo since the formal end of the country's last civil war in 2003.

Laurent Nkunda says he is protecting the region's ethnic-Tutsi community from attacks by a Rwandan Hutu militia. His group signed an agreement with the government in January, but fighting broke out again in August, with an estimated 250,000 people displaced since then.

The U.N. Security Council is set to approve a resolution introduced by France to authorize the deployment of an additional 3,000 troops for the peacekeeping mission in the Congo, known by the French acronym MONUC. With 17,000 troops the mission is the largest in the world, but its forces are spread across a wide area, and only 5,000 or 6,000 are in North Kivu province.

On Wednesday, MONUC forces engaged in brief clashes with members of the government-allied Mai Mai militias.

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