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UN Says Thousands More Angolan Refugees Flee to DRC - 2001-08-17

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, says more than 2,000 Angolan refugees have arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo bordertown of Kimvula during the past few days. The agency says this brings the total number of refugees who have fled to the DRC during the past two weeks to nearly 10,000.

The UN refugee agency says thousands of people have been fleeing in the wake of rebel UNITA attacks, which began Aug. 3 on the northern Angola town of Beu.

UNHCR spokeswoman Millicent Mutuli says people have been massing at the DRC border in the area of Kimvula, where living conditions for the refugees are not good.

"They are living in very rudimentary structures, particularly, they are using twigs and leaves to create some shelter," she said. "And, this cannot continue for very long. We have been able to negotiate with the DRC authorities to avail villages where we could transfer the refugees. At the moment, we have got approval for eight villages some 50 kilometers away from the border."

Ms. Mutuli says UNHCR staff already has begun parceling out land for the settlement of the refugees. She says the agency hopes to begin moving the Angolan refugees away from the border next week.

Many refugees have told aid workers the conflict between the government and UNITA has forced them to leave their homes more than one-dozen times over the years. But, they say this is the first time the intensity of the fighting has compelled them to cross the border. Ms. Mutuli says the majority of people are women and children.

"There are also quite significant numbers of old people who can be seen. Perhaps 20 percent of the population [is] men," she said. "But, it still is predominantly women and children. People are arriving with few belongings. So, they now are camped at the site living in particularly poor conditions."

Ms. Mutuli says the UNHCR fears the situation could worsen if the fighting spreads to the Angolan town of Maquela Do Zombo. She says the town holds many internally displaced people. If the town falls, she says thousands more may flee to the Congo.