New DRC fighting kills at least 14

New fighting was reported on Sunday between the army and mutineers in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as the military said clashes in the area had killed at least 14 earlier in the week.

United Nations and rebel sources said new battles took place after three days of calm north of Kanyabayonga, a town in Nord Kivu province held by mutineers allegedly backed by Rwanda, and the scene of violent clashes with government forces in the past week.

“It was they [loyalist soldiers] who attacked us,” a rebel officer, who asked to remain anonymous, said by telephone.

“The attack began around 6am, and the clash lasted about three hours,” he said.

“We repelled the attack, and they fled,” he added, saying that calm had returned during the afternoon.

The UN mission in the DRC (Monuc) confirmed from its headquarters in the capital, Kinshasa, that fighting had resumed.

But Monuc said the front line was still about 4km from the northern neighbourhoods of Kanyabayonga, which has been virtually emptied of its 25 000 residents.

The rebel officer said on Sunday his men were positioned about 25km north of the town centre after having repelled the government forces.

On Thursday, the rebels said they had pushed the loyalists 25km north of Kanyabayonga, but an AFP correspondent on Saturday saw government troops within 15km of the city centre.

However, Monuc confirmed on Sunday that the mutineers had slightly progressed towards the north.

The mutineers—who were formerly part of a rebel group backed by Rwanda, and who speak the Rwandan language Kirwanda—oppose the deployment of government forces in the region, ordered by President Joseph Kabila following reports that Rwandan soldiers were operating in the area.

“These soldiers are outlaws. They have behaved like outlaws by looting Kanyabayonga. We can’t let them do that,” army spokesperson Colonel Leon Richard Kasonga said in Kinshasa, without saying if his men were responsible for the new fighting.

“We are proceeding with the restoration of order.
Our goal remains to restore the territory’s security,” he added.

Meanwhile in the town of Buramba, a few dozen kilometres to the south-east, a military official said that fighting in the past week had left 14 people dead.

“On Wednesday, three of our soldiers were killed and a fourth was wounded while they were on patrol in the village of Buramba,” Commander Christian Pay-Pay said from nearby Nyamilima.

In a reprisal offensive on Thursday, government troops killed nine “militiamen”, he said, adding that two civilians, a man and a woman, were also killed in the fighting.

Several villagers who fled Buramba confirmed the civilian deaths, and an AFP reporter saw two men and two babies with bullet wounds at the hospital in Nyamilima.

However, Pay-Pay said he could not identify the assailants and it was unclear whether the mutinous soldiers were involved in the fighting in Buramba.

On Saturday, Monuc said it is “convinced” that foreign troops had entered the DRC in late November, and that the mutineers had received weapons “from the outside”.

At that time, Rwanda threatened to send troops into the DRC to track down Rwandan rebels, but has since denied any such deployment.

Rwanda has backed two successive rebel movements in the DRC, in 1996 and 1998.

The first toppled the dictator Mubuto Sese Seko, while the second agreed in 2003 to join Kabila’s government and army.

Kigali has justified its intervention in the east by the presence of Rwandan Hutu rebels who fled the country after the 1994 genocide.—Sapa-AFP

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