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Aid Agencies Say Relief Supplies Being Sent to Republic of Congo

Officials from the United Nations and private aid agencies said they will begin delivering relief supplies to tens of thousands of people in the Pool region of the Republic of Congo on Saturday.

U.N. officials said the situation in the Pool region is desperate. Fighting between the government and opposition forces broke out at the end of March and since then aid agencies have been finding it all but impossible to get supplies into the area.

Wivina Belmonte is a spokeswoman for the U.N. Children's Fund, UNICEF. She said aid workers were able to deliver supplies to the town of Kindamba, south of the capital Brazzaville, for the first time a week ago. Ms. Belmonte said more emergency supplies of food and medicine will be flown into the area on Saturday.

"What is important for us is not only to get food in. There are thousands of people who are hungry and in need of urgent medical help. They are scared. They have had access to very little in terms of humanitarian supplies for the past several months," Ms. Belmonte said.

The United Nations estimates about 50,000 people have been displaced by the fighting. Ms. Belmonte said aid workers who reached Kindamba last week report the town is almost empty except for military and local authorities. They believe many of the people who once lived there have gone to nearby villages and towns, while others have run into the bush and forests. Ms. Belmonte said the people aid workers encountered were in very bad condition.

"What we found when we got in there is nothing short of dire. Last week, 700 children were identified in Kindamba itself. We gave them polio drops, measles shots - all got vitamin A and iron tablets. But 12 kids were treated for severe malnutrition and two were in such critical condition that they were evacuated for treatment to Brazzaville," Ms. Belmonte said.

She said since fighting is still going on in the Pool region, aid agencies won't be able to reach all the civilians who need help. But she added that U.N. officials are negotiating with the government and rebels forces in hopes of reaching all the people in need.