Rebels in east Congo capture 2 border posts, town

GOMA, Congo (AP) -- Rebels captured two border posts and a town in eastern Congo, increasing their stranglehold over the region as thousands of refugees flee into neighboring Uganda, officials said Friday.

Ugandan army spokesman Tabaro Kiconco said the rebels grabbed control of the border post of Ishasha on Friday morning after recently capturing a town with the same name just over a mile (2 kilometers) away.

Rebel spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa confirmed his army had taken the town but did not mention the border post.

"We took this area of Ishasha peacefully. There wasn't a fight," Bisimwa said.

Kiconco also said the rebels had grabbed the Nyakokoma landing site on Lake Edward, which acts as a border post for those traveling to Uganda by boat.

At least 13,000 frightened civilians have fled into Uganda over the last two days, according to Robert Rosso, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

"Some of the stories told by the refugees are terrifying," said Rosso. "They talk of passing many dead bodies as they walked for several days into Uganda."

The town and border posts are the latest to fall in rebel hands as the army of renegade general Laurent Nkunda increases its grasp over this lawless stretch of Congo's eastern hills.

Nkunda, an ethnic Tutsi, says his rebels are fighting to protect Congo's minority Tutsis from the Hutu militia that fled here after helping perpetrate the 1994 genocide that killed more than half a million Tutsis in Rwanda. But his critics contend he is more interested in power and Congo's mineral wealth.

Bisimwa alleged that the Rwandan Hutu militia, known as the FDLR, was telling people to flee in order to attract international attention to stop the progress of Nkunda's rebels.

"If people cross the border they think they can use the international community to force us to stop our initiative ... This is the propaganda of the FDLR," said Bisimwa.

Some refugees already have fled three or four times since years of low-level fighting in eastern Congo intensified with a rebel offensive launched Aug. 28. More than 250,000 people have abandoned their homes since then.

Doctors Without Borders said four of 10 children suffering from measles have died in the village of Birundule, which they reached Thursday with a mobile clinic.

The agency is trying to get medical care to some of the tens of thousands of people hiding in forests or just running from village to village as they try to stay ahead of the fighting.

The militia, the rebels and Congo's government soldiers all are accused of grave atrocities against civilians.

On Friday, the U.N.'s top human rights official called for urgent action to stop the killing, rape and looting in eastern Congo. Navi Pillay says U.N. investigators should be given unhindered access to investigate abuses and that perpetrators must be held accountable.

The U.N. Security Council has agreed to reinforce its mission in Congo with 3,000 more soldiers and police because the current mission of 17,000 is spread too thin. It has not been decided whether the additional troops would come from Europe or Africa.

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Associated Press writers Godfrey Olukya in Kampala, Uganda, and Eddy Isango in Kinshasa, Congo, contributed to this report.

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