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Plea for protection of Congolese civilians

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Plea for protection of Congolese civilians

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Human rights groups are demanding the urgent protection of civilians caught up in fighting between rebels and government troops in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rebels are threatening to occupy the city of Goma unless a ceasefire they declared is guaranteed by the United Nations. Thousands of people have fled the city, amid reports of killings and rapes by government soldiers. Rebels have also been accused of abuses.

Goma is home to more than 500,000 people, including thousands displaced by earlier fighting. Rebel leaders, who say they are trying to protect the ethnic Tutsi minority, reject a peace deal signed in North Kivu in January.

UN peacekeepers are now the only organised forced in Goma, but are said to be over-stretched. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, says he has been in contact with the presidents of the DRC and Rwanda, as efforts continue to stop the fighting.

Meanwhile, European Union officials are discussing the crisis in Brussels today, with EU presidency holder France pressing for the deployment of a European force.