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Congolese refugees: rebels controlling departure points

Briefing notes

Congolese refugees: rebels controlling departure points

2 February 1999

We have reported in recent weeks that the number of Congolese refugees crossing to Tanzania by boat has risen dramatically. In the last few days though, these figures have dropped suddenly as anti-government rebels have made gains in South Kivu and are now reportedly controlling departure points and intercepting refugee boats on Lake Tanganyika.

After arrivals rose in mid-January to between 800 and 1,000 per day, the figure dropped to just an average of 100 over the weekend (January 30-31). The most recent refugees have told UNHCR that rebels now control most of the Ubwari peninsula, including the eastern portion from which most of the Congolese had been setting off. They said that rebels are also patrolling the coast to curb the number of departures, citing an incident when two boats, carrying approximately 300 persons each from the town of Mwanzalulu, near Fizi, were intercepted on 26 January and forced back to shore in the DRC.

Refugees added that the fighting between Mai-Mai and rebel forces had worsened, with houses intentionally burned, civilians detained and large numbers of people displaced. Congolese interviewed by UNHCR staff in Tanzania say that others will continue to flee, risking their lives to cross the lake at night.