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UNHCR Moves Displaced Persons in Eastern DRC to New Camp

The UN refugee agency says it has begun transferring people who have been internally displaced by clashes in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from makeshift settlements to a new camp. The UNHCR says it began moving a first group Thursday from Ndosho to the new camp at Buhimba six kilometers west of Goma, the main town in the area. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

Fighting among government troops, renegade forces and rebels has been going on periodically throughout the year. This has caused some of the largest displacements seen in North Kivu province for years.

Since September, fighting between forces loyal to renegade leader, Laurent Nkunda, and government troops has intensified, leading to more displacement.

UN refugee spokeswoman, Jennifer Pagonis, says existing camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) are full, forcing the newly displaced to set up in squalid makeshift settlements. To answer this need, she says the UNHCR has built a new camp at Buhimba. She says it can accommodate more than 10,000 people.

"People have been living in makeshift settlements where there has been no sanitation, no drinking water," she noted. "So, this is the first step to providing them with just the basic they need to survive in much better circumstances. The first group of 500 people we hope will be finished being moved by the end of today [Friday]. Then we will start moving seven thousand people from another congested site."

Those 7,000 people have been living in a makeshift site in Lac Vert west of Goma.

Despite a current lull in the fighting, Pagonis says displaced people are continuing to arrive at sites around Goma. In the last 10 days, she says more than 500 families have arrived. She calls this a small portion of the overall displacement in North Kivu.

"Aid agencies estimate that over 370,000 IDPs have been displaced altogether in North Kivu since December 2006," she explained. "In the Mugunga area alone, that mark has now surpassed 80,000. We fear that there are still people who cannot get out or are inaccessible to humanitarian agencies, who got caught or trapped in the fighting."

Pagonis says aid agencies expect more people to arrive in the region. She says the UNHCR is working with local authorities to identify more sites to house the displaced.

DRC President Laurent Kabila told reporters on October 17 he was preparing to forcibly disarm renegade leader Nkunda. He said he also planned to forcibly disarm and repatriate Rwandan Hutu fighters who fled to eastern DRC after the 1994 Rwandan genocide.