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Fighting in DRC Challenges Ceasefire


More fighting has been reported in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo following Monday's clashes between the army and renegade forces who battled on three separate fronts despite a shaky ceasefire. Analysts predict an escalation of violence in the volatile region. Selah Hennessy reports from the VOA West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

Gabriel de Brosses is the military spokesman for MONUC, the United Nations peacekeeping force in DRC.

"The fighting started early in the morning Monday and afterwards MONUC sent in heavy patrols to monitor the situation and some of the fighting resumed this morning," he said.

He says Monday saw fighting on three fronts, near Mweso, Ngungu and Karuba, all in the district of Masisi. He says on Tuesday the fighting near Ngungu resumed at around six in the morning.

Both sides have accused the other of firing the first shot.

But de Brosses says he is skeptical that government forces would have instigated renewed combat.

"MONUC's position is that it is very unlikely that the FARDC troops would have initiated the fighting," he added.

A series of deadly battles between the national army and renegade ethnic-Tutsi fighters took place in the eastern province North Kivu at the end of August and into September.

A de-facto ceasefire brokered by MONUC brought relative calm to the region for almost three weeks, but Monday's fighting seems to have re-ignited the ongoing conflict.

De Brosses says MONUC is training Congolese army battalions as part of its U.N. mandate, but he says government forces may not be ready to defeat the rebel fighters.

"Whether they do have the military capacity to take an armed group is one question unanswered at the moment," he explained.

Muzong Kodi is a DRC analyst with London-based Chatham House. He says the conflict has been handled badly.

He says the government has allowed the situation to fester because its army is not strong enough to wipe out the dissidents.

"They really do not have the capacity and the discipline to deal a blow to the opposing side," he noted.

But at the same time, he says, the government is refusing to negotiate.

"Nkunda is going to try as much as possible to force the government to the negotiating table, which the government is not going to want-otherwise they will lose face and there is a lot of pressure from the politicians in the area and a large portion of the population not to negotiate with Nkunda," he added.

Kodi says because the Congolese army is weak, the government will eventually be forced to negotiate.

But he says until that happens armed conflict will continue.

"It is going to be a very difficult situation for some time to come," he said. "There is going to be more fighting as you can expect and the civilian population is going to suffer the most."

According to the U.N. more than 300,000 people have been forced to flee violence in North Kivu this year.