The United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo says armed groups in the eastern part of the country have been attacking regular army positions repeatedly in the past few days. The U.N. says the situation in North Kivu province is tense and unstable.
Congolese rebel forces known as the CNDP have been attacking army and police positions in the town of Sake, only 37 kilometers from Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
The U.N. says that since the weekend, about 5,000 people have fled the fighting, and local media report that others are being prevented from fleeing.
The CNDP were part of Congo’s regular army but many of them are loyal to a rebel general, Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for allegedly recruiting child soldiers. In the past month many CNDP soldiers have deserted he Congolese army amid rumors that Ntaganda was about to be arrested. **Three weeks ago President Joseph Kabila suggested that Ntaganda should be arrested and should stand trial in Congo, not at the International Criminal Court.
A U.N. military spokesman, Colonel Felix Basse, said the Congolese army is taking steps to restore order in North Kivu. He said it would be speculation to think that the CNDP could capture Goma, and although there had been massive desertions in North Kivu, about a third of those who had deserted have since rejoined the army.
U.N. peacekeepers are keeping out of the clashes between the deserters and the Congolese army. Basse said the U.N. hopes the deserters will see reason and rejoin the ranks.
The U.N.’s mission, he said, is to protect the civilian population, which means it has to respond to threats caused by the security gaps left by the Congolese army. Owing to the desertions, large areas of North and South Kivu provinces have been left without a regular army presence.
The army and the U.N. force were operating jointly in the Kivus to protect civilians from Rwandan rebels and other militias, but since the latest split in the Congolese army that cooperation has been called off.
The CNDP forces are the remnant of a Rwandan-backed rebel army that was officially integrated into the Congolese army from 2004 onward. Most of the CNDP are Rwandaphone, meaning they speak the Kinyarwanda language. There are underlying tensions in the Kivus between Rwandaphones and other communities.
Earlier Wednesday, Bosco Ntaganda told the French news agency that he is not in control of the mutinous CNDP forces.
**In an earlier version of this story we did not clarify President Joseph Kabila comments suggesting where Ntaganda should stand trial. VOA regrets the error.