RUTSHURU, DR Congo - Rebels and pro-government militia clashed for a second successive day in the Democratic Republic of Congo Wednesday, rocking a fragile ceasefire as Kenya announced it would host an emergency summit on the crisis.
"There will be a summit in Kenya on Friday," Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said, adding that the presidents of DR Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and representatives of the United Nations and African Union would attend.
"The agenda will be... the fighting in eastern DR Congo and how to resolve it," said Wetangula.
The announcement came as Laurent Nkunda's rebel forces and Mai Mai militia battled for the second day running in the eastern province of Nord-Kivu, sparking a fresh exodus of displaced people and jeopardising a fragile ceasefire that has held for the past week.
The local Mai Mai said Tuesday they would take up the fight against Nkunda after his forces routed government soldiers in an offensive that swept several towns last week.
The fighting at Kiwanja near the northeastern town of Rutshuru forced aid workers and UN agencies to suspend their activities and withdraw staff late Tuesday, just a day after bringing the first aid convoy in a week to the rebel-held territory.
Around 1,000 men, women and children were walking out of the Kiwanja area Wednesday afternoon amid sporadic weapons fire, carrying what personal belongings they could on their heads or in their arms, an AFP correspondent reported.
Hundreds of others waited outside the local UN base. "I have been here for three days without food, without water," said Kiwanja resident Nassibu Awazi. "We have nothing. CNDP (rebels) came to our home. They told us to leave."
MONUC, the UN mission in DR Congo, issued a statement making an "urgent call for the immediate cessation of hostilities in Rutshuru and the surrounding area."
Fighting there had "gravely endangered the security of the civil population and risked aggravating an already dramatic humanitarian situation," it added.
The UN refugee agency, meanwhile, said the nearby camps at Dumez, Nyongera and Kasasa had been destroyed and around 50,000 displaced people had fled.
"Many have rejoined their friends and loved ones in nearby villages, while others have found shelter in churches and public buildings," the UNHCR said.
Still others had crossed the border into Uganda, where the UN said up to 10,000 refugees had fled since fighting resumed in eastern DR Congo in August, shattering a January peace agreement.
The World Food Programme described the situation around Rutshuru on Wednesday as "dangerous and unstable."
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Despite that setback, the UN mounted a massive humanitarian aid operation around the tense regional capital Goma, to the south.
The WFP said it had begun distributing food to 135,000 people in six camps around the rebel-threatened city.
The International Red Cross said it too had started distributing more than 300 tonnes of food to 65,000 people at the Kibati camp, just north of Goma, which is surrounded by Nkunda's forces.
Max Hadorn, the head of the ICRC delegation, described the situation there as "terrible."
"In the Kibati camps, I saw people in extreme distress, including women and children, and elderly people," he said.
Rebels loyal to Nkunda have been positioned outside Goma since declaring a ceasefire a week ago after routing government forces in an offensive that has seen them take several towns in Nord-Kivu.
That ceasefire appeared to be holding Wednesday despite the clashes further north, but the UN's top peacekeeping official said UN troops had orders to open fire on rebel forces if they advanced on the strategic eastern city.
"Should armed groups choose to enter Goma, the order is to open fire," Alain Le Roy said in Goma.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York he would attend the Nairobi summit.
"I will sit down together with President (Joseph) Kabila (of DRC) and President (Paul) Kagame (of Rwanda) and encourage them to find a path to peace," said Ban.
Kagame's Tutsi-dominated administration has been widely accused of supporting Nkunda, also a Tutsi, who says he is fighting to protect his community from exiled Rwandan Hutu rebels that Kinshasa has failed to disarm.
The persistent allegations of Rwanda's involvement in the chaos has irked Kagame, who Wednesday accused the international community of shirking its responsibility.
"For me, it's a way of running away from the problem. I am not the leader of the Congo. How can I be of influence? Influence to do what?" Kagame told reporters in Kigali.