Cholera hits eastern Congo
Doctors fight to contain outbreak
KIBATI, Congo - Doctors struggled yesterday to contain an outbreak of cholera in a sprawling refugee camp near Congo's eastern provincial capital of Goma, as renewed fighting ignited fears that patients could scatter and launch an epidemic.
Congolese soldiers and rebels were seen less than 800 yards apart near Goma, where rebel leader Laurent Nkunda declared a cease-fire on Oct. 29 as his forces reached the edge of the city.
Rebels and soldiers clashed Thursday just north of the Kibati refugee camp, 7 miles from Goma, and soldiers who retreated last week were digging in Sunday at a new front line.
Some 50,000 refugees have crowded around Kibati, some taken into log cabins by villagers, others living in tents or hastily built beehive-shaped huts. Thousands who sleep out in the open huddled under plastic sheeting yesterday as curtains of rain pounded down.
The relief organization Doctors Without Borders said it treated 13 new cases of cholera in Kibati yesterday and has seen 45 cases since Friday. Dr. Rafaela Gentilini said shortages of water and latrines were making the outbreak "really dangerous."
Dozens of people have died of cholera in recent weeks elsewhere in eastern Congo. Doctors also fear an epidemic north of Goma, behind rebel lines, where access has been limited by fighting and where rebels have driven tens of thousands of people from camps where outbreaks had been contained.
At the front line near Kibati, soldiers milled around yesterday, collecting pay, smoking marijuana, and looking unconcerned about the rebels, who were gathering less than a half a mile away. Intermittent gunshots crackled from the direction of government positions.
"I'm ready, ready to kill Nkunda!" said First Sergeant Claude Kazunga, 33, raising his AK-47. "If they provoke us, we will push them back."
Other soldiers hoped for a more peaceful solution.
"The [heavy] weapons that are being fired around here . . . we are killing our own parents," said Lieutenant Jean-Paul Briki. "There must be negotiations."
In Kibati yesterday, rain soaked two young brothers wearing rags and plastic sandals who said they had walked from Rugari, 17 miles away. Kasigue, who said he was 12 but appeared far younger, shivered as he clutched a clump of green onions and some electrical wire. His brother Gasaza huddled under a dirty plastic sheet. The boys were separated from their parents when fighting erupted and hoped to find them at Kibati.
"We've been walking since morning," Gasaza said.
The United Nations Children's Fund says hundreds of children have been separated from their parents as more than 250,000 refugees have been forced from their homes in the last 10 weeks.
In Kibati, the International Red Cross distributed enough flour, oil, and beans to feed 35,000 people for 10 days, and spokesman Luc Haas said more food will be distributed today.
Earlier yesterday, thousands of people packed churches in Kibati and Goma to pray for a halt to the fighting that saw rebels and pro-government militiamen executing civilians last week in what the top UN envoy to Congo has called war crimes.