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North Kivu army chief replaced as fighting intensifies

KINSHASA, 17 Dec 2004 (IRIN) - The Armed Forces High Command of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has transferred the military commander of the 8th Military Region - North Kivu Province - in a move aimed at ending clashes between factions of the army in the province.

North Kivu's Gen Obed Rwibasira has swapped places with the military commander of Kasai-Oriental Province, Gen Gabriel Amisi, according to the army's communication adviser, Jean-Willy Mutombo.

"It is necessary to reorganise the armed forces given that General Obed is an ethnic Banyamulenge [Congolese Tutsi] and that those who are fighting against the army are from the same ethnic group," Mutombo told IRIN from the Congolese capital, Kinshasa.

The North Kivu military commander had been recalled to Kinshasa two weeks ago, around the time that Rwandan President Paul Kagame threatened to invade eastern DRC to disarm the thousands of Rwanda Hutus who, he said, were threatening Rwandan security.

Since then, violence in eastern Congo has increased. Although the Rwandan government denies that it is involved, Congolese President Joseph Kabila recently announced that he would send 10,000 additional troops from Kinshasa to counter a Rwandan invasion.

Mutombo said that the army was setting up a regional military headquarters in Kisangani, capital of the province of Orientale.

The latest report of fighting is in Walikale, 140 km northeast of Goma, North Kivu's provincial capital. "The army has now regained control of the airport of Mubi," Mutombo told IRIN on Thursday.

He said the army routed dissident troops from the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Goma), which was the main rebel group in the east and was allied with the Rwandan government. The RCD-Goma became part of the coalition government in Kinshasa and its fighters were integrated into the Congolese army following a peace agreement in 2003.

MONUC verified the information provided by Mutombo. "Troops from [RCD-Goma] are pulling out of Walikale, heading toward the mountainous region of Masisi and awaiting fresh orders," said Jacqueline Chenard, MONUC's spokeswoman in Goma.

But RCD-Goma leaders say that they have no control over the combatants. "These combatants don't belong to RCD, they are just [rebellious] elements in the army," RCD parliamentarian Moise Nyarugabo told IRIN from Goma on Friday. He was part of a joint delegation of ministers and parliamentarians who travelled to the area from Kinshasa to assess the situation.

"The army now belongs to the republic so this isn't only an RCD problem," Nyarugabo said.

RCD-Goma leaders issued a statement from Kinshasa on Tuesday saying the government should take all measures to end the mutiny, but that it would be better for the government to utilise a mixed army of former rebels and government soldiers rather than simply send in troops from Kinshasa.

But the mixed army of the 8th Military Region is now divided in Kanyabayonga, 150 km northeast of Goma, where rebel soldiers have taken over. The army has made "a strategic pull back" Mutombo said. "We are re-grouping 5 kms north in Kibumba".

According to MONUC's Col Patrick Colas Des Francs, the fighting started in Kanyabayonga last weekend with after Congolese Tutsi troops in the 8th Military Region's 126th brigade blocked other troops passing through the area on their way from Kinshasa.

But the Kinshasa government has a different interpretation of events, saying that the Congolese army was also fighting Rwandans. "The Congolese troop reinforcements deployed last weekend are fighting a coalition of Rwandan and [RDC] troops," Mutombo said.

Chenard said Kanyabayonga had become "a ghost town, emptied of its inhabitants".

"Nearly 25,000 civilians have been displaced, of whom 10,000 had previously fled from Lubero and Rutshuru," she said. "Now they are all in search of shelter."

The displaced people have not received humanitarian aid as ongoing insecurity makes it impossible for aid workers to enter the area.

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