News24

Refugees return to troubled eastern DRC

2012-05-15 13:26

Kinshasa - Displaced families have begun to return to their homes in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo during a lull in fighting between the army and mutineers, a local civilian leader said on Tuesday.

"The situation is relatively calm" around Rutshuru on the border with Rwanda and Uganda in the wake of heavy fighting on Sunday, he told AFP.

"Since Monday, the number of those who fled has diminished progressively and people are returning home in Bunagana and Jomba. But those in Uganda are coming back little by little. Since there is no fighting, the population is hoping for a better future," he added.

"Those who have come home say that there is no problem, so others come back the next day. It's by word of mouth, communications by telephone. People are making each other aware" of the situation, he said.

The regular army went on the offensive last week after the expiration of a deadline for the mutineers to rejoin their ranks under a 2009 peace pact.

These soldiers, formerly members of the rebel National Council for the Defence of the People (CNDP), mutinied to protest bad conditions, food and pay and to demand the full implementation of the 2009 accords.

"There was no fighting yesterday [Monday], nor this morning. It's at least 24 hours since government forces stopped shelling," said Lieutenant-Colonel Vianney Kazarana, spokesperson for the March 23 Movement (M23) formed by former CNDP renegades.

"We are watching the movements of government forces who are preparing to attack us, but we are waiting. We are practising self-defence," he added, stating that M23 forces would not launch an offensive but would react if the army attacks.

On Sunday, "we fought a great battle ... in the Mbuzi region. We killed 26 soldiers, and sustained only one injured," Kazarana said after the fighting, accusing the army of using mortar shells and tanks against innocent civilians and looting their property.

"Thirteen soldiers were taken to the Rutshuru hospital on Sunday after the combat and four of them died. We cannot say whether they were loyalists or mutineers" because they wore the same uniform, the civilian official said, denying that any atrocities were committed.