KIBATI, Congo — Refugees who haven't eaten for days cheered when the first humanitarian convoy in a week arrived Monday at their camp, but the jubilation turned to anger when U.N. workers dumped soap and jerry cans instead of food and sped on past rebel lines.
U.N. officials admit that hunger at the Kibati camp, where tens of thousands of refugees have sought safety, is dire but say their first priority is resupplying clinics looted by retreating government troops.
U.N. peacekeepers escorted the 12-vehicle aid convoy north from the provincial capital of Goma, past Kibati and beyond rebel lines to Rutshuru.
Both the Congolese army and rebel leader Laurent Nkunda assured the convoy's safe passage, said Gloria Fernandez, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in eastern Congo.
The soap and plastic jerry cans for water distributed in Kibati on Monday were meant to help with sanitation amid fears of a cholera epidemic. Medical supplies and tablets to purify water were the priority in this shipment, Fernandez said, adding that another convoy today would be bringing food for some of the 250,000 refugees displaced by fighting in this central African nation.
She said health clinics north of Goma have been "looted and completely destroyed," leaving the Rutshuru hospital as the only operating medical facility in a region of hundreds of thousands of people.
The United Nations said that Rwandan forces fired tank shells and other heavy artillery across the border at Congolese troops during the fighting last week.
Congo's government had accused Rwanda of actively supporting Nkunda, but the accusation marks the first time the U.N. has publicly said Rwanda was overtly involved in the latest fighting. Rwanda has repeatedly denied its military is involved in the conflict.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said the leaders of Congo and Rwanda have agreed to meet him this weekend or early next week to help resolve the conflict.