January 9, 2010 / 5:32 PM / 10 years ago

France urges U.N. action on Congo refugees

BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - France raised the alarm on a growing refugee crisis in the Congo Republic on Saturday, urging the United Nations to study possible help to some 100,000 people who have fled local fighting.

A low-profile conflict in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo’s Equateur province has escalated in recent weeks, prompting an exodus of villagers across the border into Congo Republic.

“International organizations, notably the United Nations, need to focus particular attention on these refugees,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters in Congo’s capital Brazzaville.

“We are working on an urgent and full solution for these displaced people who need to be sheltered, fed, clothed and looked after so they can ultimately go back home,” he said, adding that the number of refugees was rising steadily.

The conflict in northern Equateur province is not linked to the violence in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo. It has its origin as a local dispute over fishing rights in which armed villagers killing 47 policemen last October.

Since then, various shadowy groups have posted statements on the Internet saying they were launching a rebellion from there against President Joseph Kabila’s government, which said last month it had secured the town at the center of the conflict.

Aside from the civilians who have crossed the Oubangui River into neighboring Congo Republic, several tens of thousands are believed to have been displaced in the Democratic Republic.

Reporting by Christian Tsoumou; writing by Mark John; editing by Michael Roddy

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