Refugees beyond the reach of aid workers

 Refugees who are camping in a disease-hit town out of reach of aid workers have sent a letter telling of their plight, the UN said yesterday (24 July). The letter said there were now more than 20,000 people in the town of Ndjoundou, said UN spokesman Ron Redmond. The refugees fled fighting in their home areas and crossed the Ubangui river which divides the countries, said Redmond. He did not yet have other details about the contents of the letter. The last UNHCR mission to reach Ndjoundou, on 8 July, found 5,200 refugees while medical tests showed shigella, a cholera-like disease. Another 5,000 refugees have been discovered in a remote village, and the UN now estimates there are 60,000-65,000 refugees in Republic of Congo, he added. "Crew members on a river barge which passed Ndjoundou confirmed that the village appeared to be jammed with recently arrived Congolese and that many appeared to be without shelter," said Redmond. Republic of Congo authorities have told UNHCR that it is too dangerous for aid workers to travel up the Ubangui to Ndjoundou. "UNHCR has appealed urgently to both Congo and Republic of Congo authorities to safeguard humanitarian operations and facilitate the immediate travel of a barge carrying tons of desperately needed relief supplies," said Redmond. Earlier this month, the Congolese Catholic bishops meeting in Kinshasa called upon the international community to force Congo's "aggressors" out of their country without further delay. In an official statement issued at the end of their national conference, the 39 bishops led by Cardinal Frederick Etsou, Archbishop of Kinshasa called for an end to the two-year war and asked the foreign armies to go. The bishops said the armies were responsible for "enormous loss of life and propagation of diseases". They said they were "shamelessly looting Congo's national resources, destroying the country's flora and fauna and the social-economic infrastructure of the Church and country". They also criticised the Kabila government for not allowing inter-Congolese political dialogue.

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