DR Congo: thousands flee rebel advance

 Thousands of people are on the run from rebel troops in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Missionary News Service reports. They include all 20,000 inhabitants of a refugee camp near the village of Kibumba.

The rebels, led by General Laurent Nkunda, on Sunday overran an army base and seized the headquarters of a wildlife park which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to 200 of the world's 700 surviving gorillas. They are now advancing towards the city of Goma, where a crowd of angry civilians yesterday attacked a UN building. They say they are not being properly protected by the UN's MONUC peacekeeping force. One protestor died during a skirmish.

UN peacekeeping forces are now engaged in heavy fighting against the rebels. Yesterday the military commander of the UN mission in DRC - Spain's Lt Gen Vicente Diaz de Villegas y Herreria resigned for 'personal reasons' after just seven weeks in the job. The UN said it would replace him as quickly as possible.

A peace deal was signed in Goma between the government and various rebel groups at the end of January. Although he signed the deal, Gen Nkunda has always refused to disarm while Rwandan Hutu rebels still operate in the area.

About 200,000 people fled their homes after fighting resumed in the area in late August. The UN says many of those refugees are malnourished and some are dying of hunger.

No reports have come through yet from Catholic missionaries in the path of this latest conflict. At the end of September a Catholic mission on the border with Sudan was looted and destroyed by the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army. Catholic Bakhita Radio in Juba reported that a woman was killed and some children abducted during the incident. Other reports say at least four people were killed and about a hundred houses destroyed in the attack on Duru Mission. Three Comboni priests working at the mission are reported to have escaped safely.


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