DRC: Army recaptures villages as Nkunda appeals for new ceasefire

Friday, October 12, 2007

Dissident Congolese general Laurent Nkunda has called for a fresh ceasefire, claiming that the army’s artillery fire in North Kivu province was hitting civilians.

Government forces have retaken several villages from troops loyal to Nkunda, according to the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), MONUC.

"Army bombs are falling on civilians … we fear the worst will happen if we don’t take precautions,” Nkunda told IRIN by telephone on 11 October. "We'd like this to stop and for dialogue to take place because this is a problem that can only be resolved by dialogue, there is no solution with weapons.”

Nkunda, who has resisted integration into the national army, says he is fighting to protect the Tutsi minority in eastern DRC.

The army seemed bemused by the ceasefire appeal.

"Nkunda is calling for a ceasefire just 24 hours after unilaterally declaring war against the regular army,” said Delphin Kahindi, deputy commander of the North Kivu military region, directly contradicting Nkunda’s contention that it was the army that repeatedly broke the truce brokered by MONUC in September.

“The army is continuing to impose itself on the ground," Kahindi said. "A ceasefire is not a bad thing but we have to know what comes next. For us, we have to recover the soldiers manipulated by the insurgents and liberate populations suffering Nkunda’s tyranny.”

He said the army had been making good progress. “We’ve won control of the situation on almost every front, at least control of the most important positions.”

He added that fighting was continuing at Mushake, 50km west of Goma and that Nkunda's side had suffered heavy casualties.

“This morning alone, the army killed 104 insurgents and lost 18 men.”

The deputy commander explained that the army was not yet engaged in an all-out offensive but was waiting for a 15 October deadline for Nkunda’s men to integrate into the national army.

According to MONUC, the army has retaken the North Kivu villages of Karuba, Ngigo and Muremure from Nkunda.

Food distribution to thousands of displaced people in the area has been disrupted, said MONUC spokesman Kemal Saiki.

“News of these numerous theatres of combat has led the World Food Programme [WFP] to postpone truck deliveries because, to reach Kitembo and Minovo, you have to go through Shasa, where fighting is ongoing,” he said.

“The World Food Programme is more worried than ever about the plight of 150,000 displaced people in Masisi, Rutshuru and Kalehe," he said. "Many of them have been displaced for more than six months and haven’t received food aid since August.”

More displaced

The latest clashes have prompted yet another wave of people to flee their homes. About 370,000 people have been internally displaced in North Kivu since December 2006, according to UN agencies, and aid workers keep finding new groups of IDPs.

In the Mugunga region alone, 15km west of Goma, the provincial capital, there are an estimated 80,000 displaced people, according to Jens Hesemann, spokesman for the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

According to UNHCR, newly displaced people have been arriving daily at IDP sites close to Goma since armed confrontations in the province intensified on 7 October.

"UNHCR remains highly concerned that a further intensification of fighting may lead to the new displacement of tens of thousands of civilians," Eusèbe Hounsokou, the UNHCR representative to the DRC, said.

UNHCR announced it had launched the registration of IDPs in five sites near Goma. A UNHCR team, with WFP and the NGOs Solidarités, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Caritas and Save the Children, had identified 27,530 IDPs in the Mugunga sites in an ongoing operation that started on 8 October.

However, the agency said hundreds of thousands of IDPs in host families, as well as those living in other IDP sites in Masisi and Rutshuru districts, were not covered by the registration.

"Once access for humanitarian actors to displacement zones improves, registrations at other IDP sites may be possible," UNHCR said.

Hounsokou said: "This registration has long been awaited. Once the operation is completed, the displaced registration lists will be available to partner UN agencies and NGOs to distribute food and other assistance goods in the Mugunga IDP sites."

Source: IRIN