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D.R. Congo: 6,000+ cross into Central African Republic

Briefing notes

D.R. Congo: 6,000+ cross into Central African Republic

28 July 2000

Fighting in the northern province of Equateur in the Democratic Republic of Congo has prompted some 6,000 people to cross into the Central African Republic (CAR). On July 22 alone, 1,203 persons arrived in the CAR town of Zinga, situated along the Ubangui River opposite DRC territory. The new arrivals are mostly women and children. They say they are fleeing bombing by the Congolese army, reportedly around the town of Libenge. A UNHCR mission sent to the CAR town of Mongoumba this week reported seeing bombs being dropped on Libenge, which is on the other side of the river. Refugees are settling in small groups of 20-50 along the roads on the CAR side and are in need of food and shelter to keep out of the driving rain that has been falling for the past few days. UNHCR has sent some tents and blankets. Registration is also underway, an exercise that could reveal much higher numbers of refugees. CAR authorities in Mongoumba are keen to move them quickly away from the border area, which is very volatile.

MLC rebels are reportedly cruising the Ubangui River and are reportedly targeted by DRC planes. Their presence on the river makes it especially difficult for refugees to cross and they sometimes have to pay a fee to the rebels. Local authorities are also concerned about vaccination for the newcomers to prevent them from possibly spreading diseases among the local population.

The town of Libenge, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has around 20,000 inhabitants. Many have fled into the forest and many more could cross the Ubangui River to seek refuge in the Central African Republic.

Meanwhile, UNHCR staff had a high-level meeting with authorities in Brazzaville on Tuesday to discuss access to some 60-65,000 refugees along the northern Congo and Ubangui Rivers. UNHCR only has access to about 14,000 of them at the moment, in Liranga as well as Impfondo further north. The meeting was reported to be "very constructive" and the government ready to cooperate. UNHCR is planning a mission to Liranga tomorrow. UNHCR previously estimated there were some 2,000 refugees in Liranga, but that figure may have increased in recent days. The presence of shigella - a cholera-like disease - has also been confirmed in Liranga.