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Congo cholera outbreak spreads amid tense standoff
CONGO FIGHTING XJD1 5612825
Displaced children sit in the Kituku displaced camp in Goma, eastern Congo, Monday, Nov. 10, 2008. Over 200 families of park rangers from the Virunga national park one month ago, fleeing fighting between rebels and government forces that has left tens of thousands of refugees desperate for international aid. - photo by Associated Press
    KIBATI, Congo — A cholera outbreak in a sprawling refugee camp has spread to eastern Congo’s provincial capital of Goma, increasing fears of an epidemic amid a tense standoff between troops and rebels.
    The humanitarian crisis has exploded since rebel leader Laurent Nkunda launched an offensive Aug. 28, stopping his forces at the gates of Goma before declaring a cease-fire. Retreating Congolese troops and rebels sent the population fleeing for their lives, and sporadic clashes have broken out since then.
    Relief officials say they have recorded more than 50 cases of cholera since Friday.
    Thousands of refugees are packed into camps or sleeping out in the open, scrambling for washing and cooking water. Some 50,000 refugees have crowded around Kibati, some taken into log cabins by villagers, others living in tents or hastily built huts.
    Weekend clashes between rebels and soldiers ignited 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 Monday from other European Union nations for sending a 1,500-strong EU battlegroup to eastern Congo to bolster U.N. peacekeepers.
    The fighting in eastern Congo is fueled by ethnic hatred left over from the 1994 slaughter of at least 500,000 Tutsis in neighboring Rwanda. Nkunda says he is fighting to protect minority Tutsis from Rwandan Hutu militants who participated in the genocide before fleeing to Congo.
    A summit of southern African leaders said Sunday that members could, if necessary, send peacekeepers to bolster the U.N. force. A rebel spokesman said Monday that insurgents will fight any soldiers that fi ‘‘I don’t know if they will come and engage us,’’ Nkunda’s spokesman Babu Amani said Monday. ‘‘We won’t keep silent while they kill us. We will defend ourselves.’’
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    AP Writer Constant Brand contributed to this report from Brussels, Belgium.