UN sources say some 20,000 people in the Kibati refugee camp north of Goma must be relocated as soon as possible for security reasons. Refugees at the camp said they were living in fear of attack.
Rebels in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo advanced Thursday to the outskirts of a strategic crossroads town where government troops went on a looting rampage at the start of the week.
"We are at the entrance of Kanyabayonga", Bertrand Bisimwa, spokesman for the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) led by renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda, told AFP by telephone.
Two independent sources said the rebels, as of Wednesday night, had advanced to about 10 kilometres south of Kanyabayonga, which is around 175 kilometres (110 miles) north of the Nord-Kivu capital Goma.
The United Nations meanwhile said that around 20,000 people currently living in the Kibati camp, north of Goma, would be relocated "as soon as possible" for security reasons, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees told AFP on Thursday.
"Kibati is a disaster. You can't have people there, so close to the front line," said David Nthengwe, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency in Goma.
"The military are always going through the camp, in and out, and knowing the behaviour of the army, anything can happen."
There have also been reports of drunk soldiers disturbing the camp's population, as well as looting.
"I think probably 90 percent of them will want to move," he said. "Some will not move because they will fear they are being moved further away from their homes. So that will be a factor to consider."
At Kanyabayonga, the rebels said they had advanced on the town without a fight, as government troops -- who the United Nations says carried out widespread looting and "acts of brutality" in Kanyabayonga at the start of the week -- had fled.
"The situation is calm," the rebel spokesman said. "We can see that the adversary is still fleeing."
Kanyabayonga is strategic because it is the meeting point of main roads in Nord-Kivu, and thus a point of control over the north of the conflict-stricken province.
Nkunda's rebels -- who for more than two weeks have been 15 kilometres outside Goma -- already control Mirangi village, the last community on the way into Kanyabayonga, one of the independent sources said.
Spokesmen for the UN mission in Congo (MONUC), which has a base in Kanyabayonga, could not be contacted Thursday.
On Wednesday, MONUC blamed rebels for forcing thousands of displaced people to flee a refugee camp, as President Joseph Kabila's government in Kinshasa promised to punish soldiers who took part in the Kanyabayonga rampage.
Several thousand civilians had sought refuge near a MONUC base at Kiwanja, about 80 kilometres north of Goma, to escape fighting last week between the rebels and pro-government militias.
The rebels seized Kiwanja on November 5 and began a mopping-up operation to kill remaining pro-government Mai-Mai militia who they said had melted into the local population.
Human Rights Watch has said at least 50 civilians were killed, citing local sources who said the rebels had sought out "enemy collaborators".
Authorities in Kinshasa promised to punish soldiers who engaged in pillaging this week in villages in the Kanyabayonga region.
"Whoever committed acts of violence will be punished," government spokesman Lambert Mende told AFP.
MONUC said government soldiers on Monday and Tuesday took part "in looting and acts of brutality against the civilian population in the Kanyabayonga area," adding that three of the looters were killed.
Several displaced persons' camps have been emptied and razed in areas of Nord-Kivu province that have fallen under rebel control over the past two weeks, aid agencies reported.
Date created : 2008-11-14