Sporadic gunfire and explosions echoed Wednesday around this town in eastern Congo as rebels fought pro-government militiamen for a second day, forcing thousands of people to flee.
However, a wider cease-fire between the rebels and the government was holding further south around the provincial capital as diplomats prepared to assemble a regional peace summit Friday in Kenya – bringing together U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the presidents of Rwanda and Congo.
In Kiwanja, 45 miles north of the main city Goma, clashes erupted Tuesday between rebels and a militia known as the Mai Mai, but the violence eased Wednesday afternoon.
Associated Press journalists who visited Kiwanja at midday saw several thousand people on the roads, including mothers with babies on their backs, trying to find safety.
In the nearby village of Mabenga, a Belgian journalist working for a German newspaper was kidnapped by the Mai Mai late Tuesday along with his assistant and three rebel fighters, according to local official Gilles Simpeze. He said the government was negotiating their release.
On the edge of Kiwanja, hundreds of people took shelter at a roofless abandoned school beside a U.N. base manned by Indian peacekeepers. The soldiers, in blue helmets and flak jackets, crouched behind sandbags and concertina wire.
“(The U.N.) should open up their gates to protect us,” said Ntaganzwi Sinzahera, a 30-year-old refugee.
But soon after, Sinzahera and everyone else at the school left, joining a large crowd of refugees streaming toward the adjacent rebel-controlled town of Rutshuru.
“Tonight we don't know where we're going,” said 21-year-old Omar Issa, who joined the crowds leaving Kiwanja. “I didn't bring anything. We don't have any food.”
Few had time to gather up possessions. One man carried only his bible.
The U.N.-backed African Union summit is expected Friday in Nairobi, Kenya, attended by Congo President Joseph Kabila, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Ban, the U.N. chief. Kagame is believed to wield strong influence over the main rebel faction.