November 2, 2008

Fleeing Gov’t Soldiers Loot, Rape in Congo

A humanitarian disaster is looming in the Democratic Republic of Congo as Tutsi rebel leader Gen. Laurent Nkunda approaches Goma, observers say.

Nkunda has ordered a cease-fire in his advance on the city to establish a "humanitarian corridor" allowing some of the 500,000 refugees who have fled Goma, an eastern Congo provincial capital, to return home. But United Nations aid workers say retreating government soldiers are looting, killing and raping civilians and a larger bloodbath is feared, the Sunday Times of London reported.

"People are just trying to stay safe. It's muddy and wet and a lot of people are sick," one local aid worker told the newspaper, with a Red Cross spokesman in Kinshasa adding: "The situation is catastrophic. There is no other word."

U.N. peacekeepers Sunday were preparing to send a convoy of food and medical supplies to help hundreds of thousands of the displaced people, which would leave Goma and move into territory controlled by Nkunda's forces, the BBC reported.

The British and French foreign ministers, David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner, were in neighboring Rwanda Sunday for talks with President Paul Kagame aimed at ending the Congo crisis.