KINSHASA, 22 November 2007 (IRIN) - Many civilians have fled the Democratic Republic of Congo town of Rutshuru amid fresh clashes between regular and dissident soldiers - renegade troops who the head of the army announced would soon be disarmed by force.
Photo: Noel E. King/IRIN
The violence in North Kivu has forced thousands of civilians to leave their homes
"Hundreds, perhaps several thousands of people have left Rutshuru [in North Kivu province] and moved in the direction of a MONUC [UN mission in Congo] base to the north, towards Kiwandja, or to the south, after fleeing rather serious skirmishes that lasted fours hours [on the morning of 21 November]," said Colonel Pierre Chareyron, MONUC spokesman.
Casualty figures had not yet been established, but Rutshuru hospital sources said several wounded civilian soldiers had been received there.
"There were five to six civilians and three FARDC [national army] soldiers wounded," said Chareyron, quoting a report from the hospital.
Shortly after the fighting, army chief of staff General Dieudonne Kayembe and MONUC commander Colonel Babacar Gaye told a news conference that the dissident soldiers, led by General Laurent Nkunda, would soon be disarmed by force.
"Now that all avenues of persuasion, all peaceful avenues have been exhausted, I have come to draw up a plan to oblige him [to disarm] - a plan to use force," said Kayembe.
A MONUC spokesman said the UN mission would help in the planning of the offensive against Nkunda.
The army had given a September deadline for Nkunda's forces to join the integration process, but Nkunda did not comply, even when the deadline was extended, and his men have clashed repeatedly with regular forces in North Kivu, where some 370,000 civilians are now displaced.
Nkunda had a month ago said that he would send 200 of his combatants to MONUC-managed reintegration centres, but he did not keep his word.