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Civilians displaced in renewed fighting in North Kivu

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KINSHASA, 20 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - Hundreds of civilians have been displaced in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the latest round of fighting between dissident soldiers and the army's fifth brigade, a humanitarian official has said.

The new wave of the displaced started arriving on Friday in areas of North Kivu Province, near the borders of Uganda and Rwanda.

"The dissident soldiers have captured some villages, including Tongo and Bunagana," Lina Ekomo, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said.

The villages are about 140 km northeast of the provincial capital, Goma. Ekomo said almost 1,000 civilians were seen fleeing towards Bunagana, while others were heading out of the village.

"Some have crossed the border into Rwanda," she added.

Several battles were reported this week between the army and dissident forces loyal to Laurent Nkunda, a renegade general in the Congolese army.

The fighting on Friday started in the early hours of the morning in the village of Djumbake, near Bunagana. Nkunda's men attacked the army's fifth brigade, forcing them to flee.

Ekomo said witnesses had said the brigade was now awaiting reinforcements from the eighth Military Region.

In June 2004, Nkunda and his troops briefly captured Bukavu, the provincial capital of South Kivu Province. Loyalist Congolese troops later ousted Nkunda's troops, most of whom had remained in hiding until now.

Army spokesman Jean-Willy Mutombo said on Thursday that some of the dissident fighters recently "infiltrated [the DRC] from Rwanda to join Nkunda and his men".

He said the army launched an attack on Nkunda's troops on Wednesday, killing six and forcing the rest to flee. Two loyalist troops were also killed, he added.

In the meantime, Ekomo said, relief workers could not access many of the displaced people to provide aid.


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