/ 11 October 2007

Renegade DRC general calls for ceasefire

Renegade former general Laurent Nkunda late on Wednesday called for a truce in his battle with the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo after at least 85 rebels died in four days of heavy clashes.

Nkunda also offered to send 500 of his men to a transit camp pending their integration into the regular forces — a process he has pulled out from in the past, saying it had failed thus far.

A United Nations-brokered ceasefire in early September was broken and fighting in recent days in the restive eastern Nord-Kivu province has left at least 85 Nkunda rebels and 16 troops dead, according to the army.

”We are asking Monuc (the UN mission in the DRC) to establish a new ceasefire because the villages are burned and deserted” in the Masisi district where most fighting took place, Nkunda said in a statement.

”It is important that there is a ceasefire. I would respect it,” he said, adding: ”I want everybody to put pressure to secure a ceasefire in the interests of the population.

”I was waiting more than a month [for talks]. It is the government which continued to attack me,” Nkunda said.

He added he was ready to send 500 of his men to a transit centre pending their eventual integration into the national armed forces.

Nkunda said the process of army reforms was not a problem for him.

More than 100 fighters, 85 of them rebels, died in Nord-Kivu following the fourth straight day of clashes between the army and Nkunda’s men, an army officer said on Wednesday.

Colonel Delphin Kahimbi, the army’s second in command in the volatile Nord-Kivu province, said 16 troops and 85 rebels had been killed around Karuba, 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 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.

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

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

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

Kahimbi said that having beaten off the 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