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Fighting in Congo Threatens Great Lakes Region

A country long plagued with violence, the Democratic Republic of Congo, has witnessed an upsurge in fighting between government forces of the Congolese Army and those of rogue General Laurent Nkunda which has unleashed a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. In something out of the history of the Roman Empire, Nkunda, who claims to be protecting his fellow Tutsis against Rwandan Hutu groups, has refused to integrate his forces into the Congolese Army, precipitating a series of clashes that threaten to bring the neighboring nations of Burundi, Uganda, and Rwanda into the fray. Congolese government forces recently launched an offensive against Nkunda in the eastern DR Congo province of North Kivu. Though the Congolese initially made strides, Nkunda’s forces have counterattacked, retaking areas previously captured by the government. As reported by the New York Times, this back and forth fighting has resulted in massive refugee flows:

Today in Goma, clinics are packed with spindly children so malnourished they must be fed through a tube. Outside the city, ragtag camps have sprung up, and more than 800,000 people are now displaced in the region. On the road between Sake and Goma, a panorama of misery unfolded mile after mile, as families trudged in search of sanctuary. Many slept in the open by the side of the road, shivering through a frigid night.

Meanwhile, peacekeeping forces of the United Nations Mission in DR Congo (MONUC) have pledged to defend the town of Sake against Nkunda’s advancing forces. According to AFP:

The UN mission to the DR Congo, MONUC, has reinforced its troops in the region and has vowed not to lose Sake to Nkunda's forces if they move on the town.

Early Wedesday, a MONUC spokesman said the area around Sake was calm after some sporadic gunfire overnight.

"The situation is unchanged in Sake. MONUC is controlling the town," said Major Prem Tiwari, the UN mission's military spokesman in Nord-Kivu province.

"We have reinforced our positions. We won't let this town fall into the hands of Nkunda's troops."

Nkunda’s spokesman has called for negotiations with the Congolese government and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his concern over the situation, but one can be sure that no matter which way the tide of the conflict shifts, the civilians caught in between will suffer the most.