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02 Jun 2004 09:03
Heavy fighting broke out early on Wednesday as Congolese troops and fighters loyal to a renegade commander battled for control of the centre of the troubled Congolese city of Bukavu, residents said.
The crack of assault rifles and explosion of mortar shells began at 5.30am (3.30am GMT) after soldiers loyal to Brigadier General Mbuza Mabe, the Congolese army commander in South Kivu province began fighting troops loyal a former rebel commander who had sneaked into the town, residents said.
However, Brigadier General Laurent Nkunda, the commander of renegade troops who marched on Bukavu’s airport on Monday, denied reports that his fighters were involved in the latest clashes that began hours after Mabe agreed to observe a shaky ceasefire late on Tuesday.
United Nations peacekeepers were blocking the advance into Bukavu of the bulk of troops loyal to Nkunda, UN spokesperson Sebastien Lapierre said.
A UN helicopter gunship began patrolling the skies of Bukavu after troops under the command of another renegade commander opened fire inside the city, Lapierre said.
Congolese troops battled at the center of Bukavu, capital South Kivu, as soldiers who deserted Mabe and elements of fighters loyal to Nkunda fought for control of the city, Jean-Baptiste Baderwa said by telephone from Bukavu.
The sound of gunfire and explosion of ordinances carried over the river separating Bukavu from this Rwandan border town.
Nkunda declared on Tuesday that he would end the conflict once the government set up security arrangements in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s troubled South Kivu province to prevent the persecution of the minority Tutsi community.
Mabe sent troops to attack Nkunda’s positions on Tuesday, but the offensive was beaten back and Congolese President Joseph Kabila later ordered his commander to accept the ceasefire.
The violence in Bukavu erupted on Wednesday and pitted Mabe’s troops against Congolese Tutsi, or Banyamulenge, fighters loyal to Colonel Jules Mutebutsi. At least 39 people were killed and another 81 wounded in three days of clashes, Red Cross officials said.
Banyamulenge residents fled Bukavu and others took shelter at UN compounds during the fighting after several people were killed and detained by government troops.
Nkunda said he marched on Bukavu to “stop the genocide” of the Banyamulenge.
Nkunda said he ordered the earlier ceasefire after talks with Vice-President Azarias Ruberwa, a former rebel leader and a Banyamulenge, who wanted to visit the city to find a political solution to the conflict.
Ruberwa was expected to visit Bukavu on
Wednesday after the lack of security foiled his plans to go there Tuesday.
The war in the DRC ended last June when the rebels and the government set up a transitional government in the capital Kinshasa.
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