Thousands of weary refugees packed the streets behind rebel lines on Saturday in eastern Congo, struggling toward their homes as a fragile cease-fire between the army and rebels held and diplomats tried to find a political solution to the crisis.
Rebels were manning checkpoints outside Goma, the provincial capital of eastern Congo where Laurent Nkunda's fighters halted their advance on Wednesday and called for a cease-fire. Peacekeepershad retreated to within 5 kilometers of Goma.
The conflict has been fueled by festering ethnic hatred left over from Rwanda's 1994 genocide and Congo's unrelenting civil wars.
Nkunda claims the Congolese government has not protected ethnic Tutsis from the Rwandan Hutu militia that escaped to Congo after helping slaughter a half million Rwandan Tutsis.
All sides also are believed to fund fighters by illegally mining Congo's vast mineral riches, giving them no financial interest in stopping the fighting.
Meanwhile, ordinary people are bearing the brunt of the dispute.
"We've had nothing to eat for three days," Rhema Harerimana said on Friday, traveling with one baby nursing at her breast, another on her back and a toddler clinging to her skirt.
Harerimana said she had been on the run for five days but was heading home to Kibumba, about 28 kilometers from Goma.