"They may have missed two, three or even four planting seasons by now. Anything can grow here, but that's only if you're actually able to plant it in the first place."


At a stadium in Rutshuru where distribution was taking place, thousands of people gathered to receive bags of corn meal and beans that were expected to feed a family for about 15 days.

"There is plenty of food, but I can't go back to my farm," Ibrahim Masumbuku said as he waited in line. "There is no security anywhere."

Growing fears

There are fears the country could slide back into a ruinous war such as the one in 1998-2002 that drew in more than half a dozen African nations and tore Congo into rival fiefdoms.

Fighters backed by Uganda and Rwanda seized vast swaths of territory rich in coffee, gold and tin in the east. Angola and Zimbabwe sent tanks and fighter planes to back DR Congo's government in exchange for access to lucrative diamond and copper mines to the south and west.

Eastern Congo has been unstable since millions of refugees spilled across the border from Rwanda's 1994 genocide, which saw more than 500,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus slaughtered.

Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Nigerian president who has been named as the UN special envoy for eastern DR Congo, arrived in the region in an attempt to stop a repeat of the violence.

He met Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Angola's president, in Luanda before flying on to the Congolese capital Kinshasa.

He is due to hold talks with Joesph Kabila, the DR Congo president, and said he would also like to meet Nkunda.

"Yesterday, by telephone, I spoke to my brother Nkunda ... everything will be done to meet with him face to face," he told Reuters news agency at Luanda airport before leaving for Kinshasa.

Rape claims

Also on Friday, a group of women demonstrated in Goma against rapes reportedly taking place in the ongoing conflict.

One woman claimed to have been raped by government-backed Mai Mai militia men near the town of Kanyabayonga, 100km north of Goma.

The fighting has left at least 250,000
people displaced [AFP]

Junissa Mulambe said she and others were molested while their husbands were forced to watch.

"We ran from the village because of the war and then we went in the bush somewhere to hide and there were three Mai Mai who came... They took our husbands and tied them with ropes and then they started doing bad things to us and our husbands were looking," she said.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, said he was investigating violence in eastern DR Congo, where he added that "a multiplicity of crimes", including rape and murder, are being committed by rebels groups including those loyal to Nkunda.

In Brussels on Friday, Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, said the European Union will consider "rapidly setting up a humanitarian logistics mission" to help people in the eastern area of the country."

Both the EU and the UN have been criticised by aid groups for their slow and inadequate response to the crisis in Congo.