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Over 8,500 Congolese flee fighting in DRC, cross to Uganda

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KAMPALA, Oct 31, 2008 (Xinhua via COMTEX News Network) -- Over 600 Congolese crossed into Uganda on Friday morning fleeing fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said.

The UN refugee agency said in a statement issued here that the total number has now reached 8,500 refugees who have fled fighting between rebels loyal to renegade commander Laurent Nkunda and the Congolese army in the last three months.

"The majority of the Congolese who arrived in the last three days fled from Rugarama village, 17 km from the Ugandan border, and walked for over 20 hours to reach Uganda through Busanza border point, in Kisoro," the statement said.

"They reported that their village had been taken over by Nkunda' s rebels and their lives were in danger," it added.

The agency said 6,500 refugees are settled in 12 villages in the border district of Kisoro while 2,000 have been relocated to Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Isingiro district, where they have access to clean water, sanitation facilities, shelter and food.

The agency said it is finding it very difficult to provide assistance to the refugees who are scattered in the villages, where the security situation is unstable and the food, health, water and sanitation situation could rapidly deteriorate if the number of new comers increases.

Roberta Russo, the external relations officer of the UNHCR office here told Xinhua by telephone that starting next week the agency with other partners will carry out mass information campaigns to inform the refugees about their rights and the assistance they would be offered if they decide to move Nakivale.

Stefano Severe, UNHCR Representative in Uganda said in the statement that a small transit centre and a regular system of transportation from Kisoro to Nakivale will be set up for the refugees who are willing to move.

"Should the influx of refugees from DRC continue and reach over 20,000 people, we might establish a reception centre in Nyakabanda, 15 km from the border, where, .. the refugees will have access to clean water, sanitation facilities, shelter and food" he said.

Last year, Uganda received four mass influxes of refugees from DRC, majority of whom have since return. Over 8,000 of them decided to stay and settle in Nakivale.

Uganda presently hosts 146,407 refugees, including 48,606 Congolese.