Aid agencies seek access to Congo refugees
Kibati , November 8, 2008
Aid agencies scrambled on Saturday to help many thousands of people displaced by fighting in east Congo but many were stranded despite an appeal by African leaders for a ceasefire.
Toning down his warlike rhetoric, rebel chief Laurent Nkunda welcomed a call by an emergency summit for a ceasefire and humanitarian corridor in North Kivu province, but aid workers were cautious.
'We urgently need to get into these places and deliver assistance,' the UN World Food Programme's Marcus Prior said.
Fighting between Tutsi rebels and pro-government forces went on despite a unilateral ceasefire Nkunda declared last week, a few days into an offensive against provincial capital Goma that sent civilians fleeing for their lives.
Sporadic bursts of gunfire were heard early on Saturday near Kibati, 12 km north of Goma, where more serious fighting between Nkunda's rebels and Congo's army halted food distribution and vaccinations by UN agencies on Friday.
Nkunda's revolt against Congo's government, whom he says side with local militias and Rwandan Hutu rebels against his minority Tutsi community, has displaced over 1 million in North Kivu in two years, an estimated 250,000 since September alone.
The world's biggest UN peacekeeping force, 17,000-strong, has been unable to stem the latest bout of bloodletting to rock Congo since a 1998-2003 regional war driven in part by competition for its huge mineral resources.
Over 5 million people have died in a decade of conflict.
African leaders and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met in Nairobi on Friday to tackle the conflict, rooted in Rwanda's 1994 genocide of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
'They were talking about a ceasefire and humanitarian corridor. We were asking for that already,' Nkunda told Reuters on Saturday by phone from his base in the hills north of Goma.-Reuters