New fighting erupts in eastern DRC

2012-05-20 21:30

Kinshasa - Fresh clashes between the Democratic Republic of Congo's army and a group of mutineers erupted on Sunday in the eastern province of Nord-Kivu, defectors said, a day after fierce battles near a gorilla park.

"We're on the ground. We've been confronting the FARDC [the Democratic Republic of Congo's military] since this morning three kilometres from Bunagana... where we were yesterday," Vianney Kazarana, a spokesperson for the mutineers' March 23 Movement, told AFP by telephone.

"The FARDC are using combat tanks. We're resisting. We're at the front, we're facing the enemy."

Nord-Kivu governorate spokesperson Celestin Sibomana told AFP that since 12:00 GMT fighting has been going on between national troops and mutineers at the strategic hill location of Mbuzi, which faces the Rwanda border, as well as at Chanzu, close to the Uganda border.

But the "road leading from Rutshuru to Bunagana, at the border with Uganda, is open," he added.

"The FARDC is controlling and securing the zone. But the population have been displaced from Bunagana, which is now deserted," he said.

Mutineers have been pushed back "to the end of the Virunga National Park, close to the border with Rwanda," said the spokesperson.

The two sides have been mired in tit-for-tat clashes in the remote jungle region for weeks.

The mutineers are former rebels who were integrated into the army under a 2009 peace deal but started to defect en masse, complaining of poor treatment.

Mountain gorillas

On Saturday, fighting broke out when the mutineers attacked army positions in the Rutshuru area near Virunga National Park, home to more than half the world's 700 or so mountain gorillas.

The toll arising from the attacks were uncertain.

Sources close to the army spoke of two dead and several wounded among national troops, according to Omar Kavota, vice-president of a Nord-Kivu non-governmental organisation.

"They also mentioned several mutineers killed," said Kavota.

"We recorded 13 wounded FARDC who were admitted on Sunday to the general hospital of Rutshuru.

"Among them, four who are seriously injured were flown this afternoon by a Monusco helicopter to intensive care in Goma," he added, referring to the UN peacekeeping mission.

Kinshasa accuses former rebel leader General Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court for enlisting child soldiers, of leading the mutiny.