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Thousands return to eastern town of Sake

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Gratien Ira/IRIN

At least 15,000 people who had fled fighting in Sake, in the eastern province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, are returning home but without aid.

BUNIA, 6 Dec 2006 (IRIN) - At least 15,000 people who had fled fighting in Sake, in the eastern province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, are returning home but without assistance, according to the local displacement returns committee.

"It is difficult to assist them due to the heavy military presence. For the moment, there has not been any evaluation of their needs," Patrick Lavand'Homme, the head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Goma, said.

Sake, 28 km northwest of Goma, the main town in the province, had been taken by dissident army troops led by Gen Laurent Nkunda on Sunday.

Arnaud Mudumbi, the head of a local primary school in Sake, said: "They lost all they had during the confrontations last week between government forces supported by United Nations troops against Nkunda's dissident troops. The houses were plundered."

Sake was retaken on 27 November by the 11th and 14th brigade of the national army, supported by the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC) after violent combat, in which nine government soldiers and one civilian died. Rebel casualties were considered heavy after their bombardment by combat helicopters.

According to OCHA, 1,000 families had arrived in Mugunga locality, 15 km northeast of Goma; 500 families in Minova, 50 km south of Goma, and at least 2,200 families displaced in Jumbo had moved towards Rubare.

There were other confrontations, on Tuesday, in Rutshuru territory, north of Goma, between government forces and insurgents, mainly in the localities of Runyoyi, Jomba and Bunangana, said Jacqueline Chenard, MONUC spokesperson for North Kivu. The confrontations caused the population to flee towards neighbouring Uganda.

In Masisi, Nkunda's rebels have taken refuge in the neighbouring localities of Kinoka and Mashai, 2 km from Sake, and are continuing to pillage from civilians, the army said on Tuesday.

Nkunda was dismissed from the army in 2005 after starting a revolt the previous year, claiming he was protecting Congo's Tutsi population from massacre by the rest of the eastern population.


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