Map of Democratic Republic of Congo
A vast country with immense economic resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) has been at the centre of what could be termed Africa's world war.
This has left it in the grip of a humanitarian crisis.
The five-year conflict pitted government forces, supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, against rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda. Despite a peace deal and the formation of a transitional government in 2003, the threat of civil war remains.
The war claimed an estimated three million lives, either as a direct result of fighting or because of disease and malnutrition. It has been called possibly the worst emergency to unfold in Africa in recent decades.
AT A GLANCE
DR Congo is striving to recover from a five-year war; millions died, mostly through starvation, disease
Former rebels joined a power-sharing government
Eastern regions are still plagued by militia violence
DR Congo hosts the UN's largest peacekeeping mission
The war had an economic as well as a political side. Fighting was fuelled by the country's vast mineral wealth, with all sides taking advantage of the anarchy to plunder natural resources.
The history of DR Congo has been one of civil war and corruption. After independence in 1960, the country immediately faced an army mutiny and an attempt at secession by its mineral-rich province of Katanga.
A year later, its prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, was seized and killed by troops loyal to army chief Joseph Mobutu.
In 1965 Mobutu seized power, later renaming the country Zaire and himself Mobutu Sese Seko. He turned Zaire into a springboard for operations against Soviet-backed Angola and thereby ensured US backing. But he also made Zaire synonymous with corruption.
Panning for gold in river, Bunia
Gold rush: DR Congo's mineral wealth fuelled the fighting
After the Cold War, Zaire ceased to be of interest to the US. Thus, when in 1997 neighbouring Rwanda invaded it to flush out extremist Hutu militias, it gave a boost to the anti-Mobutu rebels, who quickly captured the capital, Kinshasa, installed Laurent Kabila as president and renamed the country DR Congo.
Nonetheless, DR Congo's troubles continued. A rift between Mr Kabila and his former allies sparked a new rebellion, backed by Rwanda and Uganda. Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe took Kabila's side, turning the country into a vast battleground.
Despite coup attempts and sporadic violence a fragile peace has held since the formal end of the war. But the Kinshasa government has no control over large parts of the country and tension remains high in the east.
Moreover, the lot of DR Congo's citizens is little improved. The Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank, said in 2005 that 1,000 people were dying every day from war-related causes, including disease, hunger and violence.
* Full name: Democratic Republic of the Congo
* Population: 62.6 million (UN, 2007)
* Capital: Kinshasa
* Area: 2.34 million sq km (905,354 sq miles)
* Major languages: French, Lingala, Kiswahili, Kikongo, Tshiluba
* Major religions: Christianity, Islam
* Life expectancy: 45 years (men), 48 years (women) (UN)
* Monetary unit: 1 Congolese franc = 100 centimes
* Main exports: Diamonds, copper, coffee, cobalt, crude oil
* GNI per capita: US $140 (World Bank, 2007)
HUTUS & TUTSIS: SAME WAR IN A DIFFERENT PLACE
There are reports of chaotic scenes in Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as police try to arrest soldiers whom the UN says seem out of control.
UN radio says nine people were shot amid gunfire and looting. A BBC reporter saw a body with bullet wounds.
The UN says it is very concerned about the humanitarian situation of the tens of thousands of people who have been fleeing a rebel advance on Goma.
The UN Security Council urged the rebel leader to implement his ceasefire.
An emergency session of the council also expressed alarm over cross-border firing between DR Congo and Rwanda.
Many of the population that have fled are staying in vacant schools, in churches and outside
Unicef's Jaya Murthy
Tutsi rebel CNDP leader Laurent Nkunda, whose forces are just outside Goma, declared a ceasefire on Wednesday night and urged others to do the same.
The Security Council took no action on a request from the country's mission head, Alan Doss, for temporary reinforcements but said some of its peacekeepers could be redeployed from elsewhere in DR Congo to back up those in Goma.
Goma resident Tawite Anthony told the BBC the city was extremely tense and some people were fleeing to Rwanda.
"Everybody's afraid of the wars. They are fearing what will happen next," he said.
The BBC's Thomas Fessy in Goma says there was shooting overnight and shops were looted by soldiers.
The UN children's agency Unicef said the latest bout of fighting had produced a very bad humanitarian situation.
"We're talking tens of thousands of people who have fled towards Goma and thousands more who are fleeing north to a town called Kane Byunga," Unicef's Jaya Murthy told the BBC's World Today programme.
"Many of the population that have fled are staying in vacant schools, in churches and outside."
Earlier UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate end to the fighting, which he said was creating a "humanitarian catastrophe".
Mr Ban said he deplored the deliberate targeting of civilians and their use as human shields and said UN peacekeepers were "doing everything possible to protect civilians and fulfil their mandate in untenable circumstances".
Correspondents say the 17,000-strong UN force in DR Congo - the world's largest - is stretched to breaking point.
Gen Nkunda told the BBC the goal of his forces was to protect his Tutsi community from attack by Rwandan Hutu rebels, some of whom are accused of taking part in the 1994 genocide.
A peace deal was signed in Goma between the government and various rebel groups at the end of January.
Although he signed the deal, Gen Nkunda has refused to disarm while Rwandan Hutu rebels still operate in the area.