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Thousands return to Ituri gold town after army ousts rebels

BUNIA, 4 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - Some 5,000 civilians who fled fighting last week between the army and local armed groups in a gold mining area of northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)'s Ituri District began returning to their homes on Monday, a Roman Catholic clergyman said.

"They have been in perpetual movement. They need help to resettle," Abbot Innocent Ngabu said on Monday in Kilo, a locality 25 km north of the Bambu Gold Mines.

The information officer in Bunia for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Idrissa Conteh, said, "We don't yet know the humanitarian situation but we plan to organise a mission in the region."

Armed groups had first attacked government troops on 27 September who were guarding the Bambu Gold Mines, which serves as the headquarters of the state-owned Office des Mines d'Or des Kilo Moto - OKIMO, an army officer who asked not to be identified told IRIN.

Thousands of civilians fled in various directions: some to the army post at Bambu Mines; others 12 km south to the town of Petsi. Many others just hide in the surrounding bush.

The mines are in a mountainous area 50 km north of the district capital Bunia. The officer identified the attackers as members of the Front des Nationalistes Intégrationnistes (Nationalist and Integrationist Front led by Floribert Ndjabu) and those of the Union des Patriotes Congolais (Union of Congolese Patriots) headed by Thomas Lubanga.

The army officer said the attackers surrounded the government troops and started shooting. One soldier was killed, he said, and at least 10 of the attackers were wounded.

By Wednesday the army had repulsed the attackers who fled into their sanctuary in the Dala Forest some 30 km northeast of Bambu Mines. The army has since deployed to the locality of Kilo, which is 25 km north of Bambu Mines in an effort to secure the area.

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