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10,000 Refugees Flee S. Congo

December 4, 2000

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Renewed fighting in southern Congo has driven more than 10,000 refugees into northern Zambia in less than two days, a U.N. refugee agency official said Monday.

The refugees were fleeing an intense battle between Congolese government troops and rebel forces for the strategic town of Pweto, said Martin Bucumi, the deputy head of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Lusaka, Zambia.

``Right now we have received 10,000 and more are coming across the border,″ Bucumi said. ``We have sent a mission into the field. We will know more when we get a clear report from the field.″

Bucumi said the refugees would be taken to Kala refugee camp, 125 miles south of the Congolese border.

Congolese officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The rebels took up arms in August 1998 with the backing of Rwandan and Ugandan troops, accusing Congolese President Laurent Kabila of mismanagement and inciting ethnic hatred. Kabila is backed by armies from Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

In the last year of fighting in Congo, more than 40,000 people have taken refuge in northern Zambia. The rebels have been working their way along the border with Zambia, from Lake Tanganyika toward Lubumbashi, the country’s second-largest city and Kabila’s headquarters.

Rebel spokesman Kin-Kiey Mulumba said Pweto fell to rebel forces Sunday evening. But he promised the rebels would not advance beyond the Lake Mweru port in accordance with a peace agreement signed last year.

He said the Congolese army and its Zimbabwean allies retaliated early Monday by bombing Kalemie on Lake Tanganyika _ the second attack on the lake port town since Saturday.

Mulumba said the exodus into Zambia was ``normal given the ferocity of the fighting″ around Pweto, and said rebels were working with the UNHCR to repatriate the refugees as soon as possible.

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