/ 10 October 2007

DRC army: 100 killed in latest fighting

More than 100 fighters, including 85 rebels, have been killed in clashes in the Nord-Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a top army officer said on Wednesday.

Colonel Delphin Kahimbi, the army’s second in command in the eastern province, said 16 troops and 85 rebels had been killed around Karuba, a town about 40km north-west of the provincial capital of Goma.

”We have been in control of Karuba since yesterday [Tuesday],” he said.

”The enemy has abandoned 85 bodies on the ground,” he added. His own forces counted 16 dead, including 27 wounded, five of them seriously.

Government forces have been fighting followers of renegade general Laurent Nkunda, who claims that his aim is to defend the minority Congolese Tutsis of the east from other population groups and armed movements around Karuba.

Nkunda spokesperson Rene Abandi said that government forces had shelled their positions and that they had taken their wounded back to their bases.

He was not able to give figures for their casualties.

But Kahimbi said: ”These are the heaviest losses that he [Nkunda] has suffered” since he broke the ceasefire. Government troops had also captured ammunition and a jeep left by the rebel forces, he added.

Monuc, the United Nations peacekeeping force in the region, confirmed that government forces (FARDC) had made progress after two days of fierce fighting.

”Karuba was taken by the FARDC yesterday [on Tuesday]. Nkunda’s forces are gathered around the [neighbouring] village of Ngengwi,” Monuc spokesperson Major Prem Tiwari said.

A local resident reached by telephone reported renewed gunfire on Wednesday morning, but not as heavy as the artillery fire the day before.

Heavy fighting resumed this weekend in the highland Masisi territory where Nkunda has set up his bases in Nord-Kivu. Fighting was concentrated around Karuba and Meso, which is 70km north-west of Goma.

There was also heavy fighting in the neighbouring Nord-Kivu territory of Rutshuru in the hills 25km north of Goma.

Nkunda, a dissident Tutsi officer, announced on Monday that was launching a fresh offensive against the government forces, breaking the already fragile ceasefire that Monuc had negotiated at the beginning of September.

Kahimbi said that having beaten off that attack, government forces were now going on the offensive.

He estimated that several hundred people had been killed since the latest round of fighting in the region broke out at the end of August. — Sapa-AFP