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Rebel Advance in Eastern Congo Displaced 220,000 People, UN Says

More than 220,000 people have been displaced in Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province as clashes between rebels and the army continue to destabilize the region, the United Nations said.

Hundreds of thousands of people in need of humanitarian assistance are inaccessible because of the insecurity, Madnodje Mounoubai, spokesman for the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Congo, told reporters today in the capital, Kinshasa.

UN human rights investigators are also looking into allegations of “violations of human rights that were committed by different parties to the conflict,” including Congolese soldiers and rebel troops, he said. From July 4 to July 9, the mission received reports of summary executions, kidnappings, and pillaging, he said.

Since the beginning of the month, the rebels have increased their control of Rutshuru territory in North Kivu, causing the army to withdraw from strategic towns near the border with Rwanda and Uganda. Congo and the UN’s Group of Experts have both accused Rwanda of supporting the rebellion, which is led mainly by ethnic-Tutsi soldiers who deserted the army beginning in April. Rwanda has denied the charge.

Congo and Rwanda fought a series of wars directly or via rebel proxies beginning in the late 1990s until a 2009 peace agreement. The rebels claim Congo has not lived up to the terms of the agreement, which saw them integrated into the army. Their movement is known as M23 after the date in March 2009 when the agreement was signed.

Violence Denounced

There have been several reports of attacks against Tutsis in North Kivu in the last week, according to the UN and provincial officials. The province’s governor, Julien Paluku, denounced the violence and called for calm in a July 9 speech, according to the province’s website.

The UN has reinforced Goma, the provincial capital, and attacked rebel positions on July 8 with helicopters, Mounoubai said.

Congolese army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Sylvain Ekenge had his phone turned off when called for comment today.

Congo’s largest tin-ore mine is located in North Kivu, and the province has deposits of gold, wolframite, and coltan. It is also home to Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and an oil block under exploration by U.K.-based Soco International Plc.

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