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Aid starts to reach the war-displaced in North Kivu

7:00 PM

KIGALI, 4 Jan 2005 (IRIN) - Humanitarian workers have ventured into jungles in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since Thursday to deliver food and non-food relief aid to thousands of war-displaced people in North Kivu Province, a UN official told IRIN on Tuesday.

"We have been distributing biscuits, protein food stuffs and providing medical assistance to the wounded and sick," Patrick Lavand'homme, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Goma, capital of North Kivu, said.

Lavand'homme added that UN peacekeepers escorted the trucks carrying the aid to the forested slopes around the North Kivu towns of Kanyabayonga, Bitonghe, Kayna, Lubero and Kirumbi.

These towns, particularly Kanyabayonga, which is 150 km northeast of Goma, bore the brunt of the latest violence between troops loyal to the Kinshasa government and dissident soldiers of the Congolese army. Most of the towns were deserted at the height of clashes in mid-December.

At least 100,000 people fled their homes for the forests during the fighting. Lavand'homme said registration of the displaced started on Thursday.

Aid is being delivered by UN agencies and NGOs such as Save the Children, Care International and Medecins Sans Frontieres.

On 22 December, the UN established a 10-km buffer zone between the towns of Kanyabayonga and Lubero, forcing a lull in the fighting. The dissident troops - mostly from the RCD-Goma, a former Rwandan-backed rebel group integrated into Congo's new army - began pulling back from the buffer zone.

"We are making a strong appeal to the military to reduce hostilities against the local population," Lavand'homme said. "At one spot, the belligerent troops agreed to abandon a hospital to enable us to provide medical assistance."

The DRC is struggling to recover from a five-year war that ended in 2003, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 3.3 million people.

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