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Militia Loyal to Congo Government Says it Holds Rebel Base - 2004-09-13

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a militia leader loyal to the government says that he has captured the headquarters of rebels operating in eastern Congo. There has been no independent confirmation of the claims, but they come as government forces advance, and the rebels appear to have left their base and headed north.

A week into a government advance on the positions held by eastern Congolese rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda, a militia commander loyal to Kinshasa has said that the dissidents have fled their stronghold, and his men have taken control.

Colonel Solomon Tokolonga, a commander in the Mai Mai, a pro-government militia that is now being integrated into the new Congolese army, said Monday he was holding the lakeside base of Minova, and would wait for the government troops to arrive.

He said his men met little resistance, and that General Nkunda's soldiers had fled northwards, taking with them their weapons and ammunition.

There has been no independent confirmation, as the United Nations mission in Congo does not have any military observers in the area.

But civilians contacted shortly after they left Minova confirmed that General Nkunda's soldiers had left and were making their way into North Kivu, a neighboring province.

General Felix Mbuza Mabe, the commander of the government troops advancing from South Kivu, has said that his men are not yet in Minova, but were still heading north.

He said last week that his mission was to clear his province of rebels and those suspected of backing them, but stressed that he would not pursue them into North Kivu.

The whereabouts of General Nkunda are unknown, but a close aid Monday denied the claims that their lakeside base had been overrun.

General Nkunda, a former commander of the Rwanda-backed RCD rebel movement, led a revolt four months ago, which he said was to protect fellow ethnic Tutsis, he said were being killed by army soldiers. U.N. investigators say they have found no evidence of mass killings.

Analysts in Kinshasa warned Monday that, even if the rebels have been ousted from their base, they would still be in North Kivu, a province where local authorities are generally sympathetic to their cause.

The rebellion has rocked the peace process intended to end a decade of instability, and, a five year war that killed three million people in the Congo.