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A new front opens in North Kivu

Article published on the 2008-11-09 Latest update 2008-11-13 16:08 TU

Government soldiers near Kiwanja, in the eastern DRC.(Photo: Reuters)

Government soldiers near Kiwanja, in the eastern DRC.
(Photo: Reuters)

Sporadic clashes broke out in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Sunday as regional leaders met in Johannesburg to discuss a way to curb the recent surge in violence there and UN claims that war crimes were committed during fighting last week.

Fighting broke out at 5am local time near Ngungu, a town 60km southwest of Goma in the North-Kivu province, Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich, military spokesman for the UN Mission (Monuc), told RFI.

Shortly afterwards, at 8:30am, more shots were fired in the previously calm area around Kiwanja, 80km north of Goma, said Dietrich.

The fighting was not intense, but it came on the heels of accusations of atrocities committed by both the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) rebels led by Laurent Nkunda and government-backed Mai-Mai militias.

Speaking to reporters in Goma on Saturday, Monuc chief Alan Doss denounced this week’s killings of civilians at Kiwanja.

"We condemn them, we deplore them, and we remind the different groups involved that international law is very clear on this. These are war crimes that we cannot tolerate," he said.

The UN mission said Friday that its investigators "visited 11 communal grave sites, containing at least 26 bodies, fighters and civilians."

While some of those killed were caught in the crossfire, there is evidence that civilians were deliberately massacred by both sides, Dietrich told RFI.

“Some of the people killed in Kiwanga between the fourth and the sixth of November were the victims of crossfire between CNDP and the Mai-Mai, and definitely some of them were killed in the night in a very deliberate way,” he said.

Interview: Monuc spokesperson Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich

09/11/2008 by William Niba

Pope Benedict XVI echoed the UN’s denunciation, condemning the "bloody clashes" and "atrocities" during his weekly Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square.


Meanwhile, at the regional Southern African Development Community (Sadc) summit in Johannesburg, all sides attempted to quell rumours of Angolan troops involved in the conflict.

A frontlines peacekeeper reported Saturday that he had seen Portuguese-speaking soldiers involved in the conflict.

The Angolan military supported the Congolese government during the bloody regional war that killed millions between 1998 and 2003, and the presence of foreign troops in Congo would signal a worrying escalation of hostilities.

Mahmoud Monoubai, a spokesman for Monuc, denied that there were any Angolan troops in the country, but he did confirm the presence of military trainers.

“The Angolans have been training Congolese troops for the past years,” Monoubai told RFI.

The DRC’s foreign minister said Sunday that Angola had not sent any troops into the country, but did not rule out the possibility that they could be deployed.

"For the moment, there aren't any, but the Angolan position without any doubt is to support Congo," Foreign Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba told reporters.

The Sadc summit is expected to send a second fact-finding mission to the conflict zone. A member of the Congolese delegation said leaders are expected to issue an official call for a ceasefire and the opening of a humanitarian corridor, in line with a declaration issued at another summit Friday in Nairobi.

250,000 people have been pushed from their homes since fighting broke out in late August. Monuc reported a new group of 500 people arrived at their small base in Ngungu Sunday morning.