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ZAMBIA: Refugees arrive amid reports of renewed clashes in DRC

Johannesburg, 24 March 2004 (IRIN) - A senior Zambian official on Wednesday said authorities were investigating reports that hundreds of Congolese had crossed into Zambia over the last two weeks as a result of fighting in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Zambian Commissioner for Refugees, Jacob Mpepo, told IRIN that a security team had been sent to Kilwa Island, about 150 kilometres from the DRC-Zambia border to "screen" the arrivals.

"At this stage it is very difficult to say just how many people have come into Zambia. Until we have received a comprehensive report from the security team we will not be in a position to say if any of them may claim asylum status," Mpepo said.

He added that a priority of the security team would be to check whether any of the group was armed. "If it is found that any member of this group is carrying a weapon, then they will have to be disarmed before we proceed with any registration process. If there are women and children among the group they will obviously be granted asylum, provided there is sufficient evidence that they fear for their lives."

Earlier this week Agence France Presse reported that more than 1,000 DRC nationals had fled to Zambia after renewed fighting between Mayi-Mayi rebels and government troops in Dikulushi in Katanga Province in DRC.

But, according to sources in the DRC, the group appeared to have fled because they feared being caught in confrontations between the newly arrived government troops (FARDC) and Mayi-Mayi "irregulars" in the area. "There has been no recent renewal of fighting in this vicinity [Dikulushi] since the incident of 10 March 2004, when one FARDC major was confirmed killed near Kilwa," said an aid official.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said the organisation would be ready to assist "those of concern to UNHCR" to reach Kala camp, a site for Congolese refugees in northern Zambia.

Theme (s): Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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