Africa

DR Congo army denies UN report that rebels regrouping

  • 30 November 2010
  • From the section Africa
CNDP fighters photographed in 2008
Image caption CNDP fighters have officially been integrated into the Congolese army

The army in the Democratic Republic of Congo has denied that rebel forces are regrouping in the east.

A recent UN report on violations of the arms embargo said it found the CNDP and the FNL were recruiting fighters and amassing arms in South Kivu.

But army spokesman Maj Sylvain Ekenge told the BBC the findings were untrue.

He said the CNDP's militiamen were now in the army and the Burundian FNL group was not based in DR Congo, although it had launched some attacks from Burundi.

DR Congo is struggling to recover from a war that drew in several African nations, including most of its neighbours, between 1998 and 2003.

The mineral-rich eastern region is still plagued by unrest as armed groups battle for control of lucrative mines.

Since 1994, the area has also been the battleground for Tutsis and Hutus - as Hutu militias from Rwanda and Burundi set up bases there after the Rwandan genocide.

'Obvious'

The UN report published on Monday cites evidence that the ethnic Tutsi rebel group CNDP, which officially integrated into Congolese security forces and turned into a political party after the arrest of its leader Laurent Nkunda last year, has retained and even built up its independent military power.

The report lists four places where former CNDP officers told the experts the group retains arms caches. It identifies three battalions and their commanders as "hidden" military units, absent from official army structures.

The BBC's Thomas Hubert in Kinshasa says it quotes Congolese army and UN peacekeeping sources as saying that during the months of September and October, former CNDP officers have been recruiting to build up the numbers in their units.

But this was denied by Maj Ekenge, a spokesman for military operations in North and South Kivu.

"CNDP is a political party, it has nothing to do with the management of former CNDP soldiers who form an integral part of the armed forces," he told the BBC.

"There has been no battalion, no brigade formed by that political party," he said.

According to the UN experts' report, the Burundian rebel group FNL now has 700 fighters in South Kivu.

The report quotes multiple credible sources as saying that its leader, Agathon Rwasa, is in DR Congo and has received support from another powerful rebel group in the region, the Rwandan ethnic Hutu FDLR - and from two commanding officers in the Congolese army.

Maj Ekenge said he had just flown back from the Minembwe area where the UN experts say the bulk of FNL fighters have gathered.

"FNL are not in South Kivu, that is obvious," he told the BBC.

Mr Rwasa agreed to lay down his arms and join Burundi's peace process last year.

But he went into hiding in June because he said that he feared for his safety - just ahead of presidential polls won by incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza, another former Hutu rebel leader.

The UN report also names top Congolese army commanders allegedly involved in the illegal mineral trade, including the land forces chief of staff.

DR Congo is rich in minerals such as gold and diamonds, as well as minerals such as coltan, used to make mobile phones, but after years of conflict and misrule, most of its people live in poverty.

The country - two-thirds the size of Western Europe - has hardly any tarmac roads between its major cities, so ordinary people use the River Congo and its tributaries to travel around.

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