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Refugee Camps Targeted by Rebels in Congo

BY Admin  October 31, 2008 at 11:55 AM EST

A U.N soldier patrols a street in Goma; AP

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees “has received disturbing reports that several camps for internally displaced people near the Nord-Kivu town of Rutshuru, 90 kilometres north of Goma, have been forcibly emptied, looted and burned,” spokesman Ron Redmond told journalists, the Agence France-Presse reported.

The region is now in rebel control and aid agencies have no access, the refugee agency said. Tens of thousands of people have been driven from their homes by recent fighting between Tutsi rebel forces and Conogolese soldiers. Aid groups are trying to reach an estimated 250,000 people affected by the fighting, reported the BBC.

The rebels, led by renegade Gen. Laurent Nkunda, fought their way to the provincial capital of Goma earlier this week before declaring a cease-fire Wednesday.

Despite the refugee camp reports, a spokesman for the International Red Cross said Thursday most of the rebels are respecting the cease-fire, CNN reported.

Nkunda, whose National Congress for the Defense of the People movement claims to be defending the Tutsi minority in eastern Congo, has criticized the Congolese government for not protecting Tutsis from Rwandan Hutu militia that escaped to Congo after helping perpetrate the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The Congolese government has promised to stop Hutu forces from using territory in the country, but has not enforced that promise.

Neighboring Rwanda, meanwhile, has been accused of allowing Nkunda’s men to recruit in Rwanda and use its territory.

The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer, is planning to meet with Congo’s president and other officials Thursday in an attempt to foster an end to the conflict.

The State Department has said she also has tentative plans to travel to Rwanda to meet with President Paul Kagame.

France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his British counterpart David Miliband are also visiting both countries Thursday.

“The mission will have several goals,” Kouchner’s spokesman, Eric Chevallier, told reporters. “The first is to carry a clear political message from Europe to demand that the situation stabilizes and the different actors agree to talk to each other more.

“The second is to get an update on the situation of the civilian population. Europe has decided to make an important contribution to the humanitarian effort in Goma.”