The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) says fresh clashes Tuesday night between government forces and rebels have contributed to more than 150-thousand people internally displaced. The report says Congolese army tanks pounded rebel-held hilltops and repelled an attack on a military base in the east on Tuesday in the latest round of fighting against rebels loyal to renegade army general Laurent Nkunda.
MONUC adds that recent rebel attacks on ordinary residents in the restive North Kivu province had forced around 100-thousand civilians from their homes. But the rebels have dismissed the accusation as a calculated attempt by MONUC, whom they accuse of siding with President Joseph Kabila's government in the ongoing clashes.
MONUC spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux tells reporter Peter Clottey from the capital, Kinshasa that they are finding protection for the internally displaced persons who have been affected by the fighting.
"The fighting has been going on for sometime and it is a matter of taking hills and losing them and so on. Today's specific is that an attack that started yesterday by the rebel group on government positions in Tongo, was somewhat repelled by government troops today as they were able to take back the hilltops and take back some small localities there," Bonnardeaux noted.
He denied rebel accusations that MONUC has been aiding government troops to attack rebel positions.
"Well one would have to go to the field to see that MONUC is not taking the government's side, specifically, not since the Goma agreement that was signed back in January. Now those are the same agreements calling for a peaceful solution to the conflict, and it is MONUC'S position that those agreements need to be implemented by both sides, both the government and one rebel group really that is holding out, all the other rebel groups having signed on," he said.
Bonnardeaux said MONUC has been encouraging both President Joseph Kabila's government and the rebels to abide by the agreement.
"What needs to happen is that both parties need to implement the deal, which they have already agreed to and signed. And that involves what we call putting up the separations on where the MONUC international peacekeeping force would be occupying those separation zones between the two belligerents. And then the rebel groups are meant to go to regrouping centers where they are to be either de-mobilized or integrated into the army as they wish to do so," Bonnardeaux pointed out.
He said MONUC is maintaining its objective to ensure ordinary civilians are protected.
"MONUC has a moral power, if you want. So MONUC calls on the parties to respect their obligations and what they have signed on to. So MONUC has multiple contacts at all levels, if you wish, between the rebel groups and MONUC. So right there on the battleground, MONUC is there and there is what we call an operational basis on the ground that is actually usually caught in the crossfire. So there is contact taking place from there all the way to the leadership level, if you wish, and that is replicated on the government side with both the national army and government authorities here in the DRC," he said.
Bonnardeaux reiterated the UN Mission's objective in DRC, which aims to protect the lives of innocent civilians who he said are often affected by incessant fighting.
"Absolutely, that is the crux of our mandate. Our mandate puts first and foremost the civilian population. So in our calls for peace, that is precisely what we are looking for. We've noticed that every time fighting erupts, internally displaced people tend to flock towards the MONUC and the United Nations basis because they know that is where they can get protection. And that is what we are trying to provide, protection for these internally displaced and we are trying to steer them to less dangerous zones and eventually to safety," Bonnardeaux pointed out.