The National – Abu Dhabi
September 8, 2008

NAIROBI // Clashes in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo last week between government forces and a rebel militia threatened to plunge the region back into all-out war. The violence also threatened vulnerable wildlife including the rare mountain gorilla.

Fighting erupted yesterday when rebels from the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) clashed with the Congolese army near the Ugandan border.

The two sides exchanged machine gun and mortar fire. At least 18 rebel soldiers were wounded while 50 government troops were injured, news agencies reported.

The fighting is the worst since a peace deal was signed in January in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. The deal was supposed to have disarmed the more than two dozen militia groups in the region, but periodic outbursts of violence have continued.

During a lull in the fighting last month, human rights groups and diplomats warned that rebels were rearming for a protracted fight. The CNDP, a rebel group controlled by Gen Laurent Nkunda, has refused to disarm. Mr Nkunda, who normally grants audiences to journalists, was unavailable last month and cancelled meetings with aid organisations, fuelling speculation that he was preparing his troops for battle. Recently disarmed child soldiers who fought for CNDP also said that Mr Nkunda was planning attacks.

The UN mission in Congo, or Monuc, which has 17,000 peacekeepers in the region and has been trying to broker a peace deal, denounced the recent fighting.


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