8,000 Congolese Refugees Flee To Uganda

Around 8,000 Congolese refugees have crossed the border into Uganda to escape the latest round of fighting in North Kivu, the United Nations Refugee Agency said Monday.

Congolese villagers fleeing clashes between government soldiers and troops loyal to dissident general Laurent Nkunda began moving into the Ugandan border town of Bunagana in the country's southwest late Friday.

It's the third influx since August, when up to 30,000 Congolese fled to Uganda to escape violence between Congolese soldiers and the local population. They returned to their homes a few days later when calm was restored.

"The refugees are currently scattered around Bunagana staying with friends and relatives or sheltering on shop verandahs," said Roberta Russo, the United Nations Refugee Agency spokeswoman. "They have been advised to move away from the border to a nearby transit center for their own safety but many say they want to stay close to the border to monitor the situation with a view to returning when the situation calms."

Most of the refugees are in good health she said, though two who were caught in cross fire have been admitted to Banana hospital with bullet wounds.

The United Nations and other agencies are setting up temporary shelters and sanitation facilities as well as distributing food items at the transit site.

Large influxes of Congolese refugees into Uganda are not unusual. The mineral-rich eastern part of Congo, bordering Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, remains the most unstable area in the country, with violence breaking out regularly that often pits rival militias, including groups from neighboring countries, against each other and leaves civilians dead. Uganda occupied part of the region during a 1998-2002 war in Congo that engulfed at least six neighboring countries.