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Congo Governor: Army Advance Displaces 100,000 - 2004-09-15


The governor of Congo's North Kivu Province says at least 100,000 civilians have fled their homes fearing an advance by government soldiers in a neighboring province. The United Nations has not yet confirmed the numbers, but is verifying them, as well as reports of further fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo's troubled east.

Government troops are officially in charge of Minova, the lakeside base used for several months by renegade Congolese army officer general Laurent Nkunda, who is leading a four-month rebellion in Congo's east.

But Eugene Serufuli, governor of North Kivu, the province just to the north of Minova, says at least 100,000 civilians have left their homes ahead of advancing government troops.

Mr. Serufuli said that most of the displaced were, like General Nkunda, Congolese of Rwandan descent and they had fled their homes fearing reprisals by the government soldiers.

The United Nations has said that they have heard reports of civilians on the move, but was not yet able to confirm the numbers.

The head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in North Kivu said a mission will be sent Thursday to evaluate the situation and determine what kind of assistance the displaced people need and, if possible, how soon they could return.

Government troops have been advancing north for the past week, aiming to crush a rebellion launched in May by General Nkunda. But the soldiers faced little resistance as the rebels had largely withdrawn from their base.

General Nkunda is a former commander in the Rwanda-backed RCD rebel movement. He led a revolt four months ago that he said was to protect fellow ethnic Tutsis being killed by army soldiers. U.N. investigators have found no evidence of mass killings.

The rebellion has rocked the shaky peace process that is meant to guide Congo to elections in June 2005, following the official end to a five-year war that killed 3 million people, mostly from starvation and disease.

Meanwhile, senior military commanders from eastern Congo have been summoned for meetings with the high command in Kinshasa.

But as a further sign of instability in the region, the United Nations confirmed they have reports of continued fighting in the town of Walikale, 120 kilometers to the east of Goma, the capital of North Kivu. Different factions in the supposedly unified Congolese army have been fighting over the mineral rich area since Friday.

President Joseph Kabila's power-sharing government was set up after the official end of the war that drew in six neighboring countries, but it has been struggling to integrate former foes into a cohesive national army.

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