Thousands flee heavy fighting in eastern Congo | News | DW | 12.05.2012
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Thousands flee heavy fighting in eastern Congo

A period of relative peace in Congo has been shattered by fighting between the armed forces and mutinous soldiers in the vast central African nation's east. Thousands of refugees are now fleeing the fighting for safety.

Fighting between the military and rebellious ex-soldiers raged in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on Friday, with aid groups reporting that some 10,000 refugees had fled the region for neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.

The mutinous ethnic Tutsi soldiers have rebelled against the military over complaints that they were not being paid. They accuse the DRC's government of failing to uphold the terms of a 2009 peace deal, under which they had agreed to integrate themselves into the national armed forces.

The Tutsi soldiers were members of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CDNF), which fought against the government in the eastern province of North Kivu prior to the peace accord.

The CDNF is led by General Bosco Ntaganda, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of war crimes for recruiting child soldiers. Ntaganda was forced into hiding after DRC President Joseph Kabila ordered the army to capture him.

Some of the rebellious Tutsi soldiers have reportedly broken away from the CDNF and formed their own military group called the M23. The DRC armed forces launched an offensive against the mutinous soldiers on April 29 and subsequently called for a ceasefire, which ended on Wednesday.

Refugees fleeing for safety

The renewed fighting broke out in the town Runyoni and has spread to the town of Bunagana in Rutshuru district, both near the Rwandan and Ugandan borders.

"Since last night we have been fighting the mutineers, who attacked one of our positions in the zone of Runyoni near the border with Rwanda," military spokesman Major Oliver Hamuli told the Associated Press. "The mutineers took advantage of the ceasefire to attack us."

In this June 30, 2010 file photo, Congolese former warlord Bosco Ntaganda in his national army uniform attends the 50th anniversary celebration of Congo's independence in Goma in eastern Congo. In a marked turnaround, Congo's president Joseph Kabila called Wednesday, April 11, 2012 for the arrest of Ntaganda, a notorious ex-warlord and army general, who has been allowed to walk freely despite an international indictment, an official said.

Ntaganda is wanted by the ICC for war crimes

Nearly 7,500 people have fled the fighting for Rwanda, according to Antoine Ruvebana, from Rwanda's disaster management agency. Rwanda already hosts some 55,000 refugees from the DRC, mostly ethnic Tutsi who have fled arch rival Hutu militias for safety.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reported that another 3,000 refugees have fled for Uganda.

"There are many coming and the numbers seem to be increasing," said Musa Ecweru, Uganda's state minister for disaster preparedness.

The fighting brings to an end three years of relative peace in the DRC, which was the stage for Africa's so-called "world war" from 1998-2003, a conflict that pitted six African nations against each other and killed millions.

slk/jm (AP, AFP)