WASHINGTON (AP) _ The State Department strongly protested Friday the forced expulsion of an estimated 500 Burundi refugees by Congolese forces over the past week.

The refugees fled western Burundi in January, and some of the areas where they were returned are considered particularly insecure, department spokesman James P. Rubin said.

While the roundups and expulsions were taking place, humanitarian relief workers were denied access to the refugees, contrary to earlier assurances given by Congolese President Laurent Kabila, Rubin said.