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Congolese stone U.N. convoy near camp

Thousands of people displaced by fighting in eastern Congo have stoned United Nations vehicles at a refugee camp in anger at the organization's failure to protect them.
A Congolese government trooper (FARDC) aims his automatic weapon at a group of men being taken away with 25 others by soldiers at the Kibati checkpoint north of Goma, eastern Congo, on Sunday.Jerome Delay / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Thousands of people displaced by fighting in eastern Congo have stoned United Nations vehicles at a refugee camp in anger at the organization's failure to protect them.

Soldiers who had stopped the U.N. peacekeepers' convoy at an impromptu roadblock at the Kibati camp Sunday then dragged a group of men off the trucks, accusing them of being rebels.

Peacekeepers' spokesman Lt. Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich said 10 surrendered rebels were among these men, and that they were to have been turned over to the military Monday, "but because of this incident, it was agreed on the spot to hand them over."

He said the others were 10 police and three civilians but he did not know why they also had been taken.

Driven from their homes
The refugees at Kibati, four miles (six kilometers ) north of the regional capital of Goma, are among 250,000 people driven from their homes by the latest round of a long-simmering rebellion that erupted in August in eastern Congo.

Some refugees blame the U.N. for their plight, in failing to protect them from atrocities they say were committed by both rebels and government troops.

Congolese at Kibati camp hurled stones at the convoy on Sundan and at journalists accompanying it, as they have done several times before in the past few weeks.

"We are very unhappy about what (the U.N.) is doing here," said Boyazo Ruzuba, 29, a resident of Kibati. "Before (the peacekeepers) came, we had peace. Now, we don't have peace. They are helping rebels."

The 17,000 Congo peacekeepers whose primary mandate is to protect the local people are badly overstretched, the United Nations says, and it has approved deployment of 3,100 reinforcements.

Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda says he is protecting Congo's minorities, especially ethnic Tutsis he says are threatened by Hutu militias from Rwanda, many of whom fled to Congo's forests after participating in Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Critics accuse Nkunda of exploiting the instability to gain power, and say his attacks have increased resentment against Tutsis. .

The government, whose ill-disciplined and badly trained forces have frequently fled the fighting, is refusing to negotiate with the rebels.

Refugees threatened by diseases
Displaced Congolese are threatened as well by diseases that breed rapidly in the crowded and unsanitary camps. On Sunday, an aid group sent the first post-fighting batch of medical supplies to a ravaged eastern Congo town.

Louise Orton, a spokeswoman for London-based medical aid group Merlin, said the medication went to 20 clinics around the towns of Kanyabayonga and Kirumba, more than 60 miles (100 kilometers) northeast of Goma, for the first time since the towns were captured during a rebel advance. Up to 40,000 people depend on the supplies.

Also on Sunday, officials in Goma clamped down on the illegal sale of food aid in the city's bustling markets.

Goma mayor Roger Rashiy said local police spotted sacks of maize flour bearing the World Food Program logo in the local market, which led to the seizure of some 40 tons of food aid and the arrest of several vendors. Authorities said the food will be returned to aid agencies to be distributed.

But the U.N. agency's spokeswoman Caroline Hurford said the food on sale comprises about one percent of the 3,500 metric tons of food aid they have given to the hundreds of thousands of refugees living in and around camps in Congo's North Kivu province.

"We are aware that a small portion of our food may be sold in the market," she said. "This happens in all emergencies, and it's largely because the beneficiaries like to diversify their diet. They're tired of eating the same thing, which is understandable."