Medical aid resumes behind Congolese rebel lines

By: AP
By: AP

GOMA, Congo (AP) -- The distribution of medical aid to 40,000 people trapped behind a rapidly changing front line in eastern Congo has resumed after last week's territory grab by the rebels, an aid group said Sunday.

London-based medical aid group Merlin took a truckload of basic medication to 20 clinics around the towns of Kanyabayonga and Kirumba for the first time since they were captured during a rebel advance. Local human rights groups accuse Laurent Nkunda's rebel forces of raping and murdering civilians and abducting young men to fight against the government - accusations he denies.

It is the first delivery of medical aid to the area since Nkunda captured the two towns from the government 10 days ago in a swath of territory that allowed him to link up his positions.

"We're really pleased that we've gotten here," said Merlin spokeswoman Louise Orton. "We haven't been here for a week and a half. We know the health centers really need the drugs."

A quarter of a million people have been displaced since August, when the latest round of fighting between Nkunda's men and the government began.

Nkunda says he is protecting Congo's minorities, especially ethnic Tutsis he says are threatened by Hutu militias from Rwanda, many of whom fled to Congo's forests after participating in Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Critics accuse Nkunda of exploiting the instability to gain power, and say his attacks have increased resentment against Tutsis.

The United Nations has 17,000 peacekeepers in the Central African nation and has approved the deployment of a further 3,100 but the government, whose ill-disciplined and badly trained forces have frequently fled the fighting, is refusing to negotiate with the rebels.

A Ugandan army officer said his country on Saturday handed back 35 Congolese policemen who had fled the fighting.

"They ran away from their country last Wednesday for fear of losing their lives." Col. Emmanuel Rwashande said. "We received them and provided them with security and care as we arranged to hand them over to (Congolese) officials."

Many of Congo's neighbors, including Uganda, were sucked into the 1998-2002 Congolese war that destabilized most of central Africa.

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Associated Press Writer Godfrey Olukya contributed to this report from Kampala, Uganda.

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