Aid agencies today warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in the Democratic Republic of Congo after fierce fighting between the government and rebel forces.
Diplomatic efforts are underway to bring an end to the crisis with envoys from the US and UN sent in to help set up negotiations.
Yesterday, a ceasefire appeared to be holding in the violence-hit eastern city of Goma.
On Wednesday tens of thousands of residents, refugees and government soldiers fled the city as rebels advanced.
Congolese soldiers were reported to have killed at least nine people and looted homes and stores in the eastern provincial capital.
Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda has called for the urgent disarmament of a Rwandan Hutu militia that he says works with the government.
He said his fighters had retreated seven miles from Goma, but he has threatened to take the city unless UN peacekeepers guarantee the ceasefire.
Despite agreeing to a UN-brokered ceasefire in January Nkunda resumed fighting in August.
More than 200,000 people have been forced from their homes over the past months.
Aid agencies are now turning their attention to providing the displaced with food, shelter and support.
Juliette Prodhan, head of Oxfam in Congo, yesterday said international staff had been evacuated from Goma as a “precautionary measure”.
She said: “We will continue to monitor the situation closely, in the hope of being able to resume humanitarian assistance to those who so badly need it in the area.
“If we cannot get back into the camps after two weeks, the situation will become more complicated. Further violence will only cause more human misery and suffering for people who have already suffered too much.”
Save the Children began the evacuation of its staff in the province of North Kivu because of the fighting.
Hussein Mursal, its director in the country, said: “The conflict is now threatening the lives of our aid workers so we have temporarily to withdraw our staff to safety.
“With the humanitarian crisis worsening day by day it’s vital for us to be able to get help to communities, but the security situation is making it impossible.”
ActionAid called for a guaranteed safe passage for humanitarian workers and assistance to those in need of help.
The agency Merlin also moved some of its team to safety in a nearby town in Rwanda.
The African Union is to hold crisis talks today. EU efforts have also been ongoing to bring Rwandan president Paul Kagame and Congolese president Joseph Kabila together.
The UN said its first priority was to sustain the ceasefire. It was considering redeploying troops from other parts of the country.
Foreign Office Minister, Lord Malloch-Brown, has called for “heavy diplomatic pressure in both Kinshasa and Kigali” to resolve the situation.
Meanwhile there was growing concern for 39 wildlife rangers who fled into dense forest after their headquarters were stormed by rebels on Sunday.
The rangers, who patrol and protect Virunga National Park assisted by EU funds from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), have no food, water or shelter and are surrounded by warring armed groups.
More than 120 rangers have died in the last decade of civil war and instability while protecting Virunga’s wildlife.