World Vision: Thousands Flee as Crisis Rages in Eastern Congo

Goma, DRC, October 27, 2008 - Thousands of internally displaced people are currently walking along the main road from Rumangabo to Goma as they flee the Kibumba region where fighting is ongoing.

The displaced people filing along the road towards Goma include those who are sick, elderly women and young children, an indication of a humanitarian disaster that requires urgent intervention.

"Some of the people we spoke with said they were very hungry, had not eaten any food and did not know where they were going. Most said they had lost all their property, leaving it behind when fleeing from the fighting," said Michael Arunga, World Vision's emergency communications manager.

This morning, a World Vision communications team visited the Kibumba region, approximately 30 km from Goma, where the agency has an office. World Vision is expecting many of the refugees to make their way to other displacement camps where the agency is working.

Many of the people walking along the road lived in Kibumba at a camp for internally displaced people situated on the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"When we visited the Kibumba camp, sporadic gunfire could be heard very close to the camp, an indication that fighting is on-going. Heavily armed men stood guard along the way. A military vehicle filled to capacity with armed men sped past towards Goma with a wounded soldier on board," said Arunga.

"At the Kanyaruchina area, which is approximately 18 km from Kibumba towards Goma, we met the first lot of displaced people, who were sweating, exhausted and hungry. Many said they were happy to be safe."

The fighting sparked when rebels captured a major army camp at the Rumangabo base in North Kivu province after heavy fighting with government forces, approximately twenty-five kilometers from a World Vision operational base.

World Visions Southern Africa Advocacy Team Leader, Carole Njoke, says the international community should immediately intervene and increase the mandate of the United Nations Peacekeeping.

When driving back to Goma, the World Vision team saw hundreds of heavily armed soldiers in uniform along the road, some limping, while others were in bandages. As the team passed by a military camp, blood drenched soldiers uniforms had been aired out to dry.

World Vision has worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the mid-1980's, and conducts development programs in the west and south as well as emergency response in the conflict-affected east.

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