Fierce fighting has broken out in DR Congo's eastern region bordering Uganda between security forces and a group of army deserters loyal to renegade general Bosco Ntaganda after a deadline set by the government for the army mutineers to surrender expired on Friday, reports say.
Late last month, Gen. Ntaganda's forces deserted the army and seized control of the eastern towns of Mushake and Karuba from government security forces. Subsequently, the army gave the renegade soldiers last weekend five days to lay down their arms and surrender.
The mutineers apparently rejected the offer and continue to hold positions near the border with Uganda. Media reports suggest that thousands of people have fled the region to Uganda to escape the fighting, which began Thursday night.
Media reports indicate about 900 renegade troops still at large. Earlier, Congolese officials claimed that more than 100 mutineers had laid down their arms and surrendered after the deadline was set last weekend.
Some 18 officers, who were captured shortly after they mutinied, are due to go on trial later in the day in the South Kivu province. They have been charged with capital offenses of insurrection, mislaying weapons and ammunition and disobeying orders.
The National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) rebels led by Gen Ntaganda was integrated into the national army in 2009 under a peace deal between the rebel group and the Congolese government.
Under the deal, Ntaganda was made a general. Nevertheless, some 400 to 500 renegade soldiers led by Ntaganda deserted their base in Goma earlier this month and launched an offensive against government troops. They were joined later by hundreds of others in fighting the government forces.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, had issued an arrest warrant for Ntaganda in 2006 on charges of recruiting child soldiers to his militia group. However, Ntaganda, who is also known as "Terminator," has rejected the ICC charges.
DR Congo's President President Joseph Kabila had earlier refused to arrest Gen Ntaganda citing the 2009 peace deal. However, Kabila called for Ntaganda's arrest earlier this month, but said the renegade general would not be handed over to the ICC to face trial.
In addition of the ongoing fighting in the east, the Congolese security forces are currently engaged in separate offensives against Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels and the Uganda-based Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the north.
UN peacekeepers were sent to DR Congo in 1999 as a part of international efforts to end the 1999-2002 war that had dragged in six other countries and left over four million people dead. The UN mission in Congo, known as the MONUC, is the largest of its kind in the world, with over 19,000 troops and 3,000 civilian staff.
Although the war in Congo ended in 2002, the situation in eastern and northern parts of the country continue to remain highly volatile, mostly due to the presence of Rwandan and Ugandan rebels there. The continued deployment of the UN mission in Congo is aimed at protecting civilians as well as aid workers, and to help the central government regain control over the volatile region.
by RTT Staff Writer
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