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Fighting Heats Up in Eastern Congo


Fighting has again erupted in eastern Congo's North Kivu province between forces loyal to dissident General Laurent Nkunda and the Congolese army. Noel King has more in this report from Kigali.

Rebels and Congo's armed forces on Monday battled for control of key towns in North Kivu province.

Congo's army attacked the rebel stronghold of Mushake, a U.N. military spokesman said.

"As of this morning, 5:30, the government troops launched their operations against Nkunda loyalists in the area of Mushake. They have used their artillery and their attack helicopters have flown," said Major Vivek Goyal, who spoke to VOA by phone from Goma, the capital of North Kivu Province.

Congolese army officials were not available for comment.

Rebels said the attack on Mushake was expected, but did not offer further details on the fighting.

Rene Abandi, a spokesman for Nkunda, said the rebels had captured the Congolese army's garrison town of Nyanzale, late Sunday.

"From that base they used to shell our positions. It was necessary to destroy that base because they were attacking us from there," said Abandi.

The United Nations Mission in Congo said it could not confirm whether Nyanzale had been taken by the rebels.

Nkunda says he is trying to protect Congo's ethnic-Tutsi population from attacks by Hutu militias known as the Democratic Force for the Liberation of Rwanda. The group has links to the perpetrators of Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

But many observers and analysts say Nkunda has done more harm than good. Nearly 400,000 people have been displaced by fighting since late last year. Incidents of sexual violence against women and recruitment of children into armed groups are skyrocketing.

The U.S. State Department announced that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa next week for meetings on the conflicts in Congo, Somalia and Sudan.

The United States has urged Nkunda to surrender and go into exile to avoid further bloodshed. But Nkunda spokesman Abandi told VOA that Nkunda has no intention of surrendering.

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