KINSHASA - More senior officers have defected from the Democratic Republic of Congo's army.
The United Nations Military Mission to the Congo says the situation in North Kivu province remains tense, mainly due to continuing defections from the army to the rebels of the M23 movement.
The M23 mostly consists of former members of another rebel movement the CNDP, who joined the army three years ago under a peace agreement. But many deserted from the army in April in support of former rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda - who is wanted for war crimes.
In May, the Congolese army succeeded in driving M23 forces back to the frontier with Rwanda and Uganda. But this month that offensive ran out of momentum, amid reports the rebels were getting help from Rwanda.
In the past 10 days, four ex-CNDP colonels and an estimated 200 soldiers are reported to have deserted to the M23. One of the deserters, known as Colonel Douglas, was in charge of military intelligence for the district where most of the fighting against the M23 has been happening.
U.N. military spokesman Colonel Felix Basse said the desertions have been a double blow for the Congolese army, known here as the FARDC.
“First of all these desertions weaken the FARDC's strength," Basse explained, "and secondly it has some psychological impact. It's so important for the on-going operations. Imagine - the commanding officer of a regiment who just defects - this has a really significant impact for the morale of the soldiers there on the ground.”
He says the FARDC was holding its positions however, and the U.N. mission MONUSCO has reinforced its positions in North Kivu.
“We have deployed a lot of operational bases," the colonel explained. "Recently we have deployed a standing combat deployment at Remeka, and another one at Katoyi, Rubarao, Bunangana, and at Rumangabo, because there was a threat to seize Rumangabo bridge, which would bring a lot of problems security wise."
According to the colonel, MONUSCO has not been flying combat aircraft against the M23, although one of its helicopters did fire at a local militia group in the past week, after being fired at.
Another U.N. official said that the M23 has been causing mayhem at a number of villages well outside the area where it was supposed to be trapped.