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UN Says Eastern Congo Fighting is Forcing Thousands to Flee Homes

United Nations aid workers say thousands of civilians have fled their homes in eastern Congo after clashes in the troubled region. The United Nations humanitarian office says violence makes it difficult to verify the numbers and who is involved in the fighting.

United Nations aid workers in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo say thousands of civilians have been displaced by fighting.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says continuing instability makes it difficult to confirm the numbers of displaced and which armed groups were involved in the fighting.

But Jahal de Meritens, the head of OCHA in Congo, says the clashes appeared to involve Rwandan Hutu rebels and a very organized and well-equipped contingent, meaning the eighth military region of Congo's army.

OCHA stressed it is impossible to confirm Rwandan army involvement, as aid workers have not seen Rwandan troops. Rwanda denies it is operating in Congo, as claimed by Congo's government.

Rwanda has repeatedly threatened to send its army into eastern Congo to hunt down Hutu rebels, many of whom took part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, before fleeing to eastern Congo.

Over the last week, Kigali has said that, as the United Nations and the Congolese government have failed to disarm the remaining 10,000 gunmen, they have the right and the responsibility to do so.

The international community has warned Rwanda against taking unilateral action. Congo's government says Rwanda already has done so. The United Nations says it has evidence to suggest Rwandan infiltration, but has not confirmed it.

Fresh instability in eastern Congo is likely to disrupt the fragile transitional government that is struggling to lead Congo's 60 million people to elections, which are due in June next year, following a five-year war that sucked in six countries and killed three million people.

Congo's president, Joseph Kabila, has accused Paul Kagame, his Rwandan counterpart, of deliberately undermining the peace process in Congo, in order to maintain a political, economic and military presence in the resource-rich east of his country.

Rwanda has intervened twice in Congo during the last decade to hunt down the Hutu rebels.