Dissident troops gather in DRC

Dissident troops who this week overran the east Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) town of Bukavu were gathering at several sites in and around the town Friday, an AFP journalist witnessed, a day after their leader promised to pull them out entirely.

The soldiers were assembling at strategic points, notably near the airport, a facility held by United Nations peackeepers 30km north of Bukavu, to defend the town they captured on Wednesday, their commander, General Laurent Nkunda, told reporters.

“They are going to positions where the enemy might attack us,” said Nkunda.

Nkunda has said he took the town, the capital of Sud-Kivu province, to get rid of the “bad” military authorities in place there and to protect the Banyamulenge ethnic community from “massacres”.

His pledge of loyalty to DRC President and commander-in-chief Joseph Kabila cut little ice as the head of state quickly said that regular forces will soon retake Bukavu.

The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, Monuc, has twice said that Nkunda on Thursday undertook to pull all his men, estimated to number between 2 000 and 4 000, out of the town entirely.

That evening, Monuc reported seeing some of Nkunda’s men leaving Bukavu.

Details of the withdrawal, such as where the dissident troops should be billetted, were still being discussed with Monuc on Friday.

Meanwhile, it was not clear on Friday where the regular troops Nkunda’s men chased out on Wednesday were located after a week of clashes that left 61 dead.

Monuc’s spokesperson in Bukavu, Sebastien Lapierre, told reporters on Friday that the peacekeepers’ priority is now “to observe the movement of troops away from the town to supervise the apllication of the withdrawal agreement”.

Monuc’s 800 troops in Bukavu “will be responsible for security in the town, but not for the town itself in the absence of Congolese [regular] troops,” he added.

He said Nkunda’s men were on Friday “much less visible in town”. But an AFP journalist in Bukavu saw dozens of dissident troops in the town centre and at the border post with Rwanda.

“Looting has died down considerably since last night,” added Lapierre.

The town was still tense on Friday, however, with the occasional gunshot ringing out.

Some shops had reopened, residents went to market and some civil servants returned to work.

Although Monuc’s mandate does not oblige the force to resist Nkunda’s takeover, its inaction caused outrage across the country.

On Thursday, a crowd gathered outside the UN mission’s headquarters in Kinshasa, and others marched from all corners of the capital to join them, to demand that Monuc leave the DRC.

There was sporadic gunfire and three people were shot dead as they looted at a UN warehouse in during the demonstration, UN officials said.

Less violent protests took place in most major towns with a Monuc presence all over the country.

Meanwhile, at the United Nations in New York, UN peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno said the deadly unrest may force the dispatch of further UN troops to the country.—Sapa-AFP

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  • Francesco Fontemaggi

    Francesco Fontemaggi

    Francesco Fontemaggi is a diplomatic correspondent for Agence France Presse in Washington, D.C. His work has also appeared in MSN, Business Insider, Channel 7, Seven News, Yahoo, Le Figaro, and France 24. Read more from Francesco Fontemaggi

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