The UN World Food Programme has begun distributing emergency food supplies in areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo under rebel control for the first time since the end of October.
The UN delivered Friday the first food aid in two weeks in territory held by rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and said it needed to urgently move 60,000 refugees from the frontline.
Renewed fighting in Nord-Kivu between followers of renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda and the army has displaced more than 250,000 people and left more than 100 civilians dead since August, according to UN and private aid agencies.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said 60,000 people in camps at Kibati, just north of the flashpoint Nord-Kivu provincial capital of Goma, would be moved "as soon as possible, in few days" due to the security threat.
"Those unable to walk, including children, the elderly and the infirm will be transported by truck to the new site," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva.
With rebels and government forces about 600 metres (yards) apart at Kibati, a UN peacekeeping force spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich, said the force was negotiating "to reduce the tension and keep the belligerents separated as much as possible."
Around 25,000 displaced people have camped out around a small UN base in Bambu, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) of Goma, where they have no humanitarian aid except for handouts from Indian peacekeepers giving from their own supplies, Dietrich said.
"We face a very difficult humanitarian situation because there's disease, including diarrhea and cholera," he said.
The UN's World Food Programme (WFP), meanwhile, began distributing salt, maize, beans and cooking oil to 6,000 refugees in Rutshuru, 75 kilometres north of Goma, in the first operation of its kind since the end of October.
"The distribution went well, no problems," Prior said. "There were a lot of people there. We shall continue as long as security is good along the road and in the zone in general."
A total of 12,000 people are supposed to receive the food aid in the area over four days, with UN troops escorting the food trucks.
Nkunda's troops have surrounded Goma, population 500,000, for the past two weeks after routing the army from the city.
MONUC's number two, Leila Zerrougui, said the mission has taken "every step to ensure Goma does not fall."
"We are conscious that it's the province's capital, and that if this capital falls, it means that it's the province that has fallen," she told a news conference in the besieged city.
MONUC, the world's biggest peacekeeping mission with 17,000 troops, has 5,000 soldiers deployed in Nord-Kivu including around 1,000 in Goma.
Zerrougui warned that nothing stood between the rebels and the UN troops in Goma.
"We are doing our best to protect Goma. But we are facing an unprecedented situation. The rebels have no one in front of them. Usually, it's an army against rebels, and are an in-between force," she said.
Nkunda's forces on Thursday swept to the outskirts of another strategic town, Kanyabayonga, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Goma.
MONUC and government forces had reinforced positions at the town, Dietrich said, adding that rebels were still "a few kilometres" from Kanyabayonga.
The rebels said Thursday they advanced on the town without a fight, as government troops had fled.
A MONUC report sent to AFP said that "the situation is generally calm in Nord-Kivu, even though it remains tense and volatile."
Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict continued, with the UN special envoy for the crisis, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, arriving in Kinshasa where he was to meet DR Congo's President Joseph Kabila.
DR Congo Foreign Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba held talks with ministers and officials in neighbouring Rwanda. DR Congo accuses Rwanda of backing Nkunda, but the Kigali government strongly denies this.
Mwamba said after the talks that "Rwanda has an important role to play in the search for a solution to the crisis."
Date created : 2008-11-15