KANYABAYONGA, CONGO // On one side of this mountain top ghost town, a line of black-booted rebels approaches on foot with rockets and tin boxes of ammunition, seizing new territory with each footstep despite promises of a ceasefire. On the other side, government soldiers in flip-flops balancing portable generators and luggage on their heads have begun to flee. In between, the vast Central African nation's deepening humanitarian crisis is laid bare.Thousands of desperate civilians who used to live in this eastern Congo town huddle against coils of concertina wire surrounding a base for UN peacekeepers, waiting nervously for the rebels. "We are hungry and thirsty, but we don't want any aid. We want security," said Jeff Machozi, 30, who built a makeshift tent three days ago with tree branches and bamboo he ripped out of the earth. "We want this war to stop." Clashes between fighters loyal to rebel leader Laurent Nkunda and the army and its allied spear-wielding militias exploded in August, displacing at least 250,000 people. But those refugee figures do not include remote towns like Kanyabayonga, whose entire population has fled, or Kayna, another town just to the north, which was also virtually deserted yesterday. Kanyabayonga is about 130km north of the regional capital, Goma. Though Mr Nkunda told UN envoy Olusegun Obasanjo on Sunday that he was committed to a ceasefire, his troops have been carving out an even greater territory in the remote hills north of Goma. Early yesterday, the rebels took control of Rwindi, the headquarters of Virunga National Park, after a night spent trading artillery and mortar fire with army forces. Rwindi is 16km south of Kanyabayonga. UN peacekeepers at a base in Rwindi that was between the two sides said rounds flew overhead for more than an hour. Some exploded nearby, and one Indian soldier in a trench was wounded in the head by shrapnel, UN commanders at the base said. Two government vehicles full of ammunition burned in the night, though peacekeepers said it wasn't clear if soldiers destroyed them by accident or to keep rebels from taking them. By yesterday morning, peacekeepers said they woke to find rebels in the town. Yesterday afternoon, rebel fighters were already marching single-file by the side of the road north toward Kanyabayonga, which sits on a hilltop.
"They are continuing their offensive farther north," UN peacekeeping spokesman Col Jean-Paul Dietrich said. "This shows they're not respecting their own ceasefire they've declared." *AP