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New refugees pour across Central African borders

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New refugees pour across Central African borders

21 July 1999 Also available in:

Continuing conflicts across central Africa have forced more than 50,000 refugees to flee the Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo-Brazzaville over the last three weeks, forcing relief agencies to struggle to meet rising needs in the war-torn region.

Half of these new refugees have fled fighting in the east and north of the DRC, where the conflict continues despite a peace agreement signed 10 July in Lusaka.

"Political solutions must be found urgently for the crises in the two Congos," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata. "The refugees and the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons in both countries are suffering untold misery in the absence of political solutions to the fighting in their homelands."

Talks between parties to the conflict in the DRC have slowed since the 10 July accord, with some rebel leaders refusing to endorse the cease-fire deal and continuing their advance. At the same time, fighting between government forces and rebels in neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville has been unrelenting since December 1998, when it resumed after a year-long pause. This month the conflict pushed thousands of refugees into a second neighbouring country, Gabon.

In Africa's Great Lakes region, UNHCR has only $3.4 million available - enough to assist the region's more than 750,000 refugees for only two more weeks. In spite of the funding difficulties, UNHCR must establish new camps in Tanzania, Gabon and the Central African Republic.

"Contributions are not even meeting all the needs of long-time refugees, much less the newest arrivals," High Commissioner Ogata warned.

In the east of the DRC, more than 600 refugees a day are fleeing across Lake Tanganyika aboard small boats to escape fighting between rebels and local opposition groups. Nearly 100,000 Congolese refugees are now crowded into two refugee sites in western Tanzania and aid workers fear a rise in tension in the camps.

The war in the DRC has also caused more than 14,000 Congolese to flee the north into remote areas of the CAR during the past few weeks. More arrivals are expected from the town of Zongo, and UNHCR is rushing aid to the remote region.