Ituri fighting may have displaced thousands

Thousands of Congolese civilians may have been displaced by recent fighting between UN peacekeeping troops and local militiamen in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN mission's public information officer, Mohammad Abdoul Wahab, said on Tuesday.

A Medu resident who arrived in Bunia late Monday, Jean Mbafele, said: "We all fled into the bush. Only people who participated in the fighting stayed in the village."

They escaped as an eight-hour battle raged around their village of Medu, 25 km south of Bunia, in Ituri District, Orientale Province. Medu has a population of some 4,000.

The UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the area has not yet been able to access the humanitarian situation, its information officer in the area, Idrissa Conteh, said on Tuesday. He said the humanitarian community had ceased activity in the area since 20 June and only restarted on Sunday.

During Monday's fighting, UN Bangladeshi and Indian troops fought more than 1,000 militiamen of the Fronts des nationalistes et intégrationnistes who were armed with mortars, rockets and grenades, Wahab said. The UN used two MI-25 combat helicopters in the operation and reinforced its troops with Pakistanis.

The UN troops repelled the militiamen who tried to return again in the afternoon, Wahab said. UN troops are continuing to patrol the area and, Wahab said, Medu was now calm.

"All the militiamen have fled and abandoned the village," he said.