Fri, Sep 07, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Fighting between DR Congo troops and rebels wanes


Fighting between government forces and renegade troops loyal to dissident general Laurent Nkunda died down on Wednesday near a strategic town in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, both sides said.

Heavy fighting around Kimoka village, north of the town of Sake, "stopped shortly after 6pm" on Tuesday, army Colonel Delphin Kahimbi said. "Our men have fallen back on their positions."

Military aides to Nkunda, a cashiered general who controls swathes of the rugged but fertile Nord-Kivu province from a mountain base, said his forces had also dug in after Tuesday's battle.

The vast central African country's regular army has deployed more than 2,000 men in the region around Sake, which controls the road to the provincial capital Goma and was briefly overrun by Nkunda's forces late last year.

The large UN peacekeeping mission active in the the country since before the end of a war that engulfed the country between 1998 and 2003 has been striving to have both sides accept an overall ceasefire.

According to local staff of this mission, MONUC, the latest clashes have driven between 4,000 and 5,000 villagers from their homes in a region where more than 170,000 people have been displaced since December last year.

A member of Sake's local administration said many residents of the town were angry at MONUC for its alleged lack of action: "They accuse them of doing nothing," he said, while hundreds fled for Goma on the border with Rwanda.

A UN military source said MONUC troops had been compelled "to fire in the air" to disperse angry crowds who stoned their vehicles, after a local official said townspeople had been stopping UN soldiers from heading towards Kimoka.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed deep concern over the fighting.

Ban said in a statement on Tuesday he was "deeply concerned by the ongoing armed clashes in North Kivu" and urged Kinshasa and all local stakeholders to press on with efforts to bring about a peaceful solution.

Kahimbi, the deputy commander of regular army forces in Nord-Kivu, said that in Tuesday's fighting Nkunda's men had attacked and "we intervened and drove them back."

"Our aim was not to dislodge them. The situation has calmed down since. This morning it's calm," he said.

The army last year sought to deal with Nkunda by forming mixed brigades incorporating his men and their officers, which were deployed in January, but mass defections ensued once the high command entrusted other brigades with the task of tracking down armed Rwandan Hutu rebels operating in the country.

Three regular brigades have arrived in Nord-Kivu since the renewed fighting erupted with orders to occupy the positions formerly held by Nkunda's men in the mixed brigades before the wave of defections.

The army said Tuesday it had killed 60 renegade troops in battles the previous day, using ground forces backed by an attack helicopter.

MONUC put the toll on Nkunda's side at about 30 and a dissident commander, self-styled general Bwambale Kakolele, claimed most casualties were civilians.

A local spokeswoman for the UN peacekeeping force, Stephanie van den Wildenberg, said 105 of Nkunda's fighters had surrendered to loyalist forces, asking to be reintegrated into the army, and were grouped in Goma.

The former renegades have been sent from the Nord-Kivu region to Bas-Congo province in the west of the country for re-training, a military official said on condition of anonymity.

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