Troops loyal to dissident general Laurent Nkunda in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have regained control of the town of Mushake in the eastern North Kivu province, which they had lost to government forces less than a week earlier, military sources said.
UN-supported Radio Okapi quoted the deputy commander of government troops in North Kivu, Colonel Delphin Kahimbi, as admitting the army had suffered some setbacks.
The UN Mission in DRC, MONUC, was more specific, with Major Prem Kumar Tiwari, MONUC’s spokesman in Goma, North Kivu’s capital, saying: "Nkunda's troops have taken up positions around Mushake and Mushake itself. The regular army is no longer present there."
A resident of Minova, a town in neighbouring South Kivu province, said some people fleeing fighting in Mushake had arrived there.
"There are some 30 families who have arrived, but there are also some soldiers from the regular army who fled the counter-offensive in Mushake," said Edouard Dunia, a human rights activist. Military officials were not immediately available to comment.
Earlier in December the army mounted an offensive against Nkunda’s positions, saying its efforts to negotiate the integration of his forces into the regular army had come to nought. Nkunda has insisted he is fighting to defend the interests of members of the ethnic Tutsi minority in eastern DRC from discrimination.
Meanwhile, humanitarian agencies and MONUC have expressed concern over the safety of civilians in the North Kivu town of Kilolwire, where 14,000 people are thought to have sought sanctuary.
"It's a concern; operational solutions will be developed quickly. Constant communication must be kept with these people to warn them," MONUC’s military commander, General Babacar Gaye, told a news conference in Goma on 10 December.
"Responsibility for the people who are currently in Kilolwire is shared between the people themselves, the parties to the conflict and the humanitarian community in conjunction with MONUC,” added the general.
“We can propose solutions to ensure the security of these people but they must also take responsibility and not put themselves in a situation where they endanger their lives,” he said.