Cholera fears add to Congo misery

A cholera outbreak has spread to the eastern Congo capital of Goma, increasing fears of an epidemic.

A cholera outbreak has spread to the eastern Congo capital of Goma, increasing fears of an epidemic.

As rebel forces and government troops continued their tense stand-off outside the city, two infected residents were admitted to Goma Hospital along with two refugees who were taking shelter in the city, the Doctors Without Borders charity said.

Relief officials say they have recorded more than 50 cases of cholera since Friday.

There were clashes over the weekend between rebels and soldiers, igniting concern that patients could scatter and launch an epidemic.

But it appears unlikely that a European Union force will come to help stem the fighting. France failed to secure support today from other EU nations for sending a 1,500-strong battlegroup to bolster UN peacekeepers in the area.

The fighting in eastern Congo is fuelled by ethnic hatred left over from the 1994 slaughter of at least 500,000 Tutsis in neighbouring Rwanda.

Laurent Nkunda, whose rebels launched an offensive in August, has said he is fighting to protect minority Tutsis from Rwandan Hutu militants who participated in the genocide before fleeing to Congo.

Nkunda declared a cease-fire on October 29 as his forces reached the edge of Goma, but there have been sporadic clashes since then.

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 are sleeping out in the open in heavy rain.

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 rebels have driven tens of thousands of people from camps where outbreaks had been contained.

At a meeting of EU foreign and defence ministers today, Germany and Britain opposed sending EU troops to Congo, despite France’s urging.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the EU’s role should be to encourage the African Union to do more militarily while promoting a political solution.

He welcomed a declaration made at a summit of southern African leaders yesterday that said African countries could send peacekeepers if needed to help the UN force.

“It will be for every country of the world really to consider its own position,” Mr Miliband said. “What’s significant about the talks on the weekend is the clear determination from African leaders to make sure their countries are in the lead politically and militarily.”

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