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Thousands flee fighting in DRC

The humanitarian and human rights crisis in North Kivu province, eastern DRC is worsening rapidly as rebel forces of the CNDP threaten to overwhelm government troops and the embattled UN peacekeeping force, MONUC. On 28 October the CNDP, under the command of renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda, marched into the town of Rutshuru. The CNDP is now advancing on the eastern provincial capital of Goma. Fleeing in panic before the rebel advance are tens of thousands of civilians, forced to abandon camps and villages to the north of Goma amid fighting between rebel and government forces. MONUC is stretched to its limits. Although, at 17,000 strong, the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world, MONUC has struggled to fulfil its mandate in this vast country. Earlier this month Alan Doss, head of the UN Mission in the DRC, asked the Security Council for more peacekeepers, air support and other equipment. The Security Council has not yet indicated whether it will authorize this reinforcement. Protests have been staged against MONUC's inability to deal with the worsening violence and to protect civilians. The violence has led to a fresh breakdown in relations between the DRC and neighbouring Rwanda. The DRC government has accused Rwanda of supporting the CNDP, while Rwanda accuses the DRC army of siding with the Rwandan Hutu armed group, the FDLR. Fighting in North Kivu has intensified since August 2008. More than 1 million people are estimated to have been displaced by this and previous rounds of conflict in the province. Amnesty International is appealing to the UN Security Council to urgently reinforce the UN peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and give it all the necessary support to enable it to fulfil its mandate to protect civilians. The organization is also calling for high-level international pressure on the DRC and Rwanda to resolve their differences and to use their influence over armed groups to halt the slide towards greater bloodshed. In a letter to the Security Council on 23 October, Amnesty International noted that the international community now faces a critical test of its resolve to bring peace and security to the DRC. The organization also called for the Security Council to step up pressure on armed groups to halt all attacks against civilians and to immediately release all children associated with their forces as well as women and girls held as sexual slaves. Amnesty International also called on the Security Council to step up pressure on the DRC government to deliver meaningful security sector reform, so that its armed forces are capable of protecting civilians in a neutral and professional manner, with suspected perpetrators of human rights violations excluded from the ranks of the national army and police.