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DR Congo forces advance towards ex-rebel chief holdout

General Jean Bosco Ntaganda in 2009 (© 2009 AFP)

The Congolese army said Thursday it had advanced towards the holdout of renegade general Jean Bosco Ntaganda, who has been blamed for fomenting violence and displacing tens of thousands of people.

Clashes between the regular army and forces loyal to Ntaganda had broken out near Mushaki, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of the main regional city of Goma, a Congolese army colonel told AFP.

“Our troops are heading towards Mushaki from Karuba, and it is there that fighting is currently taking place,” he said.

The United Nations said Thursday about 20,000 people had fled the fighting since Sunday, with more than 3,500 people crossing the border into neighbouring Rwanda and the rest held up in government-run camps near Goma.

Ntaganda had told AFP on Tuesday that he was at his farm near Mushaki, in Nord-Kivu province, and has denied all responsibility for clashes between forces loyal to him and the army in the east.

But Julien Paluku, governor of Nord-Kivu, on Wednesday said the Congolese government blamed the violence on Ntaganda and that the general would be tried for the clashes.

Ntaganda is also wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes allegedly committed in 2006 when the general was accused of using child soldiers.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila has come under international pressure to arrest Ntaganda, but his government has insisted in the past that Ntaganda’s cooperation was needed to stabilise the war-ravaged east.

Dozens of Congolese and international organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the US to support Kabila’s government in arresting Ntaganda.

In the letter sent Thursday, the 142 rights and civil society groups said: “Ntaganda’s brutal human rights abuses over many years have affected tens of thousands.”

“His position as a high-ranking officer in the Congolese army, together with his ability to continue to perpetrate abuses is the most flagrant case of Congo’s destructive culture of impunity,” it added.

Also Thursday, the United Nations Security Council called for Ntaganda’s immediate arrest, saying it was especially concerned with the numbers of people being displaced in the fighting.

The Ntaganda-led National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) rebel group was integrated into the Congolese national army in 2009 following a peace deal to end an uprising in eastern DR Congo.

But in April, a group of several hundred CNDP loyalists, including roughly a dozen senior officers, defected from the army and are now fighting national troops in the east.

The rebels said Ntaganda would not be caught easily and that the army would probably give up before reaching the general.

“They say they will arrest Bosco Ntaganda, but he’s a general and can’t be caught like a man who has no protection,” said one of them.

Before it signed the deal, the CNDP fought government forces in the chronically-troubled Nord-Kivu and at one stage threatened to capture the regional capital Goma.

Signature : GOMA, DR Congo (AFP)

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