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Upsurge in Congo Fighting Causes Many to Flee - 2002-10-18

There has been an upsurge in fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since Rwandan troops pulled out less than two weeks ago. The fighting has become so intense that many people in the region are fleeing over the border to Rwanda.

Ever since the Rwandan troops left, a Congolese militia group known as the Mayi Mayi has been making advances in eastern Congo. A U.N official just back from the region says the Mayi Mayi's next target is Bukavu, capital of eastern Congo's South Kivu province, on the Congo-Rwandan border.

Jean Charles Dei of the U.N.'s World Food Program says some Bukavu residents are so scared that they do not sleep in their homes at night.

"The situation in Bukavu is extremely tense right now and the population is just strategizing how to go out of Bukavu before the attacks start in the town," he said. " People are staying overnight in Rwanda and coming [home] in the morning because they guess that during night time is when the attack will occur."

The Mayi Mayi captured Uvira, the second largest town in South Kivu, from rebels of the Rally for Congolese Democracy on Sunday.

The rebels are backed by the Rwanda government, but they have proven no match for the Mayi Mayi, who are backed by the Congolese government.

Before Rwanda withdrew its forces earlier this month, its forces effectively controlled one-third of Congolese territory.

People in eastern Congo are waiting for the United Nations to send more troops into the area in the hope that this will calm the situation down.

The upsurge in fighting has worsened an already precarious humanitarian situation. City residents have been unable to leave the towns to tend to their fields.

The World Food Program says more than half a million people in eastern Congo, most of them women and children, are now in need of emergency food aid.

WFP officials says the agency has no resources to buy or deliver this food, which would cost $80 million. It says additional funding is desperately needed to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.