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DRC Civilians Moving to Safer Sites

The U.N. refugee agency says it is continuing the voluntary transfer of displaced Congolese civilians from the precarious Kibati camps on the northern outskirts of Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

About 65,000 Congolese civilians are sheltering in the two Kibati camps. The U.N. refugee agency said they are living in a precarious situation with warring parties nearby.

It said it fears the civilian population could be caught in the crossfire should fighting resume in this area. Therefore, it said transfers to a safer location must be done as quickly as possible.

U.N. refugee spokesman Ron Redmond said the operation had to be suspended Sunday due to shooting in the area.

He said four internally displaced people were wounded. He said the incident reportedly was caused by police who were shooting around the camp.

"The problem is you get a lot of unruly characters in this area, including people who have been drinking. And, so the shooting incident that we have heard about on Sunday, I believe, was for that category. It was not any organized attack or military operation," said Redmond.

Since fighting between the government and rebel forces intensified in North Kivu at the end of 2006, more than 800,000 people have been displaced.

This number includes about one-quarter million who fled their homes since August, following another escalation of fighting between government forces and troops loyal to renegade commander, Laurent Nkundu.

Redmond said more than 140 families or 500 people have been relocated to the so-called Mugunga I camp. He said 140 other families are to be transferred to this camp from Kibati.

"Work is proceeding at the new Mugunga III camp where the bulk of the Kibati population will be relocated. Meanwhile, we also have identified additional accommodation possibilities at the existing camps of Mugunga I and II, Buhimba and Bulengo. All services are already running in those camps. So, we have been able to relocate particularly vulnerable people including handicapped, sick, infants, pregnant women, elderly and others since last week," he said.

Redmond said subsequent transfers will target displaced families currently sheltered in school blocks and portable tent warehouses at Kibati. He said most of the internally displaced people will make the 15-kilometer journey from Kibati camps to the new Mugunga III on foot.