Bosco 'Terminator' Ntaganda takes over DR Congo towns

Bosco Ntaganda photographed in Goma in October 2010
Image caption Bosco Ntaganda used to fight with Thomas Lubanga, the first person convicted by the ICC

Troops loyal to Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court, have taken two towns in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

A BBC reporter in the area says thousands of people are fleeing the fierce fighting towards nearby Goma.

Hundreds of heavily armed soldiers loyal to Gen Ntaganda recently defected from the Congolese army.

Known locally as the Terminator, Gen Ntaganda has denied the ICC accusation that he recruited child soldiers.

'A lot of shooting'

The Congolese army has admitted its troops were defeated and pushed out of the towns of Mushake and Karuba by Gen Ntaganda's men.

The government soldiers have retreated 12km east to Sake, 30km (18 miles) west of Goma, the regional capital, where they are regrouping for a counter-offensive.

The BBC's Thomas Hubert in Sake says local residents told him they heard the fighting between forces loyal to Gen Ntaganda and government troops going on well into Sunday night.

Our correspondent says he saw a constant stream of families loaded with mattresses, kitchen utensils and suitcases on the road between Sake and Goma.

"There has been a lot of shooting, this is why we have fled," an elderly man who fled Mushake told the BBC.

A woman who left the same area told the BBC she had seen the dead bodies of soldiers and civilians.

Several thousand people have been displaced by the fighting, our correspondent says.

Many people told the BBC they fear a repeat of scenes in late 2008.

Then, Gen Ntaganda was a senior commander of the CNDP rebel group, which threatened to invade Goma.

This led more than a quarter of a million people to flee their homes.

In 2009, the rebels were integrated into the national army - and Mr Ntaganda was promoted to general.

The renegade soldiers, who deserted their Congolese army base in Goma earlier this month, number between 400-500, according to UN and Congolese military sources.

In another front, in the area of North Kivu province between Mweso and Kitchanga, Congolese army officials told our reporter that they had halted the progress of Gen Ntaganda's men.

From 2002-2005, Gen Ntaganda was chief of military operations for the Congolese UCP rebels, led by warlord Thomas Lubanga - who in March became the first person to be convicted of war crimes by the ICC, after he was found guilty of recruiting child soldiers.

Gen Ntaganda was his co-accused - but President Joseph Kabila has previously refused to arrest him for the sake of DR Congo's peace.

The president earlier this month called for his arrest - but says he will not hand him over to the ICC.

Despite the end of DR Congo's war in 2003, several armed groups still roam the mineral-rich east of the country despite attempts by the UN and army to disarm them.

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