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Thousands displaced by fighting arrive at Lake Albert

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BUNIA, 30 Mar 2006 (IRIN) - Thousands of Congolese civilians in the northeastern district of Ituri arrived on Thursday at the port town of Kasenyi on Lake Albert, on the border with Uganda, after they fled fighting between the national army and militia groups, a local official said.

However, many of the displaced who had arrived at Kasenyi have already left and returned home, the chief of Bahema Sud Collective, Deogratias Rusoke, said.

The civilians were displaced following fighting near their homes in Tchomia, in the south of Ituri. Tchomia is 7 km north of Kasenyi and 62 km east of Bunia, the main town in the district.

"There were 6,000 [people] here yesterday who came from Tchomia," Rusoke said. "Almost 5,000 have already returned to Tchomia as it is again calm there."

With support from a Bangladeshi contingent of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, known as MONUC, the Congolese army has been fighting a newly formed militia alliance in Ituri called the Mouvement revolutionnaire du Congo, which is made up of remnants of various defunct militias.

According to MONUC, some 16,500 fighters from various Ituri militias have voluntarily disarmed since 2005. However, between 2,000 and 4,000 others have refused to do so and are still fighting.

"They are trying to reconquer land they lost and [to] gain control of the border [with Uganda] along Lake Albert so they can continue trade and arms trafficking," a UN military official, who wished to remain anonymous, said.

A local government official said the militiamen were in control of several towns and villages along Lake Albert, including Kafé, Datule and Joo.

Rusoke said the fighting over the last 30 days has been south and east of Kasenyi. He said thousands of the displaced civilians had arrived at Kasenyi from nearby towns and villages including Tcheyi, Kagoro, Kanzoka and Nyamavi.

During the latest fighting at Tchomia, the army said three militiamen were killed and many others were injured. Two soldiers were also killed, according to an army source requested anonymity.

Humanitarian groups say they have not been able to operate in southeast Ituri for 12 months.

"Insecurity has stopped us from setting up a mission," Idrissa Conteh, the information officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Bunia, said.

Conteh said he had received a report from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, that 4,000 people in Tchomia were now displaced and in a critical situation.


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