Thousands more flee rebel fighting in Congo

Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo fought pro-government militiamen for a second day in the town of Kiwanja today, forcing thousands to flee.

A wider ceasefire between the rebels and the government was holding, however, and diplomats were trying to assemble a regional peace summit on Friday in Kenya.

Journalists who visited Kiwanja, in the east of the country, saw several thousand people on the roads, including mothers with babies on their backs, as insurgents loyal to warlord Laurent Nkunda searched houses.

Kiwanja is about 45 miles north of the provincial capital Goma, and the clashes between rebels and a militia known as the Mai Mai appear to be taking place on the town's outskirts or in the hills and fields of coffee and corn beyond.

On the edge of town, hundreds of people took shelter at a roofless, abandoned school beside a UN base manned by Indian peacekeepers.

Fighting in DR Congo intensified in August and has since displaced around 250,000 people, forcing exhausted refugees to struggle through the countryside, lugging belongings, children, even goats.

Tropical rainstorms, which drench eastern DR Congo every day, have added to their misery.

After forcing the army into a humiliating retreat and reaching the outskirts of Goma, Mr Nkunda called a ceasefire on 29 October. The rebel leader has warned, though, that war could resume if the government does not accept his demand for direct negotiations.

The government says it will talk - but only with all rebel and militia groups, not just with Mr Nkunda.

A regional summit is expected on Friday in Nairobi, Kenya, attended by DR Congo President Joseph Kabila, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Mr Kagame is believed to wield strong influence over Mr Nkunda's Tutsi-led rebels.

The conflict in eastern DR Congo is fuelled by festering ethnic hatred left over from Rwanda's 1994 genocide and DR Congo's civil wars from 1996-2002, which drew neighbouring countries in a mad rush to plunder Congo's mineral wealth.

Mr Nkunda claims the Congolese government has not protected ethnic Tutsis from the Rwandan Hutu militia that escaped to DR Congo after helping slaughter a half-million Rwandan Tutsis.

Mr Nkunda, who defected from DR Congo's army in 2004, now says he is fighting to liberate all of DR Congo from a corrupt government.

Rebels also say regional powers are again getting involved in the fighting. They accuse DR Congo allies Angola and Zimbabwe of mobilising to back government forces, while the government says Rwanda is helping the insurgents.

Today, Rwanda's government called DR Congo's crisis an "internal" problem.

"The prevailing assumption that the crisis is a matter between Rwanda and the (DR Congo) is wrong," it said.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said today's fighting, which appears isolated around Kiwanja, stopped it from visiting refugee camps near Rutshuru that had been deserted. Residents have said the rebels forced them to leave, but it was unclear why.

The UN children's agency criticised the Mai Mai for recruiting 37 children to bolster their forces against rebels just last week.

"Child recruitment by all armed groups has increased significantly over the past two months," the agency said. "Unicef reminds all armed groups of their obligation not to recruit and use children, and to release all boys and girls under the age of 18."

WFP began distributing 10-day rations today to more than 135,000 recently displaced people in six camps around Goma.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Beverley James: Accounts Payable

£22,000 - £23,000: Beverley James: Are you looking for the opportunity to work...

Beverley James: Accounts Assistant

£30,000: Beverley James: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a person looki...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower