France says it will help the Congo Republic feed more than 100,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo who have been displaced by fighting in the western Equateur Province.
Relief officials do not have enough supplies to feed all the refugees, who have crossed the Oubangui River into the Congo Republic, fleeing fighting between ethnic Enyele militiamen and the army of the government in Kinshasa backed by U.N. peacekeepers.
More than 100,000 refugees are spread along 500 kilometers of the river that separates the countries. Only about one-third of them are receiving food, and those rations are mostly incomplete as there are few starches left in relief warehouses.
That has created a substantial humanitarian crisis for the government of Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who discussed the situation with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris.
President Sassou Nguesso says 120,000 people from the Democratic Republic of Congo have crossed the Oubangui river and are now living in a region that is normally home to 80,000 people.
The president says 80,000 residents for 120,000 displaced people in a remote region of northern Congo is causing serious problems. He says he and President Sarkozy discussed the situation, and the French leader promised to support the Congo Republic in its relief operation.
Regional diplomats say the humanitarian situation could grow worse with more fighting. Earlier this month, Enyele militiamen launched their boldest attack, briefly taking control of the governor's office and the airport in the capital of Equateur province.
That is another security challenge for the government in Kinshasa at a time it is insisting U.N. peacekeepers begin withdrawing from western provinces in June.
The instability of such a large refugee population may also pose a threat to the Congo Republic. Africa's fifth-largest oil producer is an important French ally in the region. Brazzaville currently pumps about 220,000 barrels of oil a day, and the French energy firm Total is its biggest producer.