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Displaced DRC Citizens Relocate Amid Lull in Fighting


Thousands of displaced people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have in recent days fled camps in search of safer and better places to live. Many are arriving in a refugee site called Bulengo, afraid to return home, despite a recent lull in fighting between government and rebel troops. Kari Barber reports from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

U.N. Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux says a tenuous calm is being maintained in the eastern region after several weeks of heavy fighting between government troops and forces loyal to dissident general Laurent Nkunda.

Nkunda says he is protecting the ethnic-Tutsi population living in the area from the Congolese government, which he accuses of collaborating with ethnic Hutu fighters from Rwanda.

Bonnardeaux says despite the lull in violence, for most of the population it is still not safe to return home.

"Any time there is any kind of fighting, unfortunately it is the population that suffers first," he said.

Bonnardeaux says there have been recent reports of clashes between Nkunda's forces and other rebel groups that operate in the area.

"There are mini clashes here and there, mostly with other forces, not with government forces," he says.

The U.N. Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo says the number of people displaced by fighting in the North Kivu province has passed 300,000 with about 90,000 people arriving at camps this month.

About 4,000 people in the past few days have come to the Bulengo site near the city of Goma.

Jens Hesemann with the U.N. refugee agency says some were fleeing violence, while others were already refugees at other sites, but who left seeking safer and more sanitary conditions.

"The conditions in the other sites are very difficult, many people living very crowded on top of each other, some people squatting in school buildings," Hesemann said. "The school buildings are occupied, but the school year has just started and need to be used for school so they cannot stay there."

Hesemann says the site in Bulengo is newer and offers better services than other sites, but he says it is filling up fast. He says the U.N. agency and the Congolese government are looking for new places to keep the nation's displaced.

President Joseph Kabila has said to bring peace to the area, General Nkunda's troops need to be integrated into the regular army. Nkunda has agreed in principal to the integration, however efforts to implement it in the past have largely failed.