DR Congo army chief Gabriel Amisi suspended

image captionGen Gabriel Amisi allegedly used relatives to help smuggle weapons

The head of the army in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been suspended pending an investigation into claims that he sold weapons to rebel groups.

A UN report accused Gen Gabriel Amisi of running a network supplying arms to poachers and rebel groups including the notorious Mai Mai Raia Mutomboki.

A government spokesman said other officers were also being investigated.

The suspension follows the seizure of the city of Goma by the separate M23 rebels on Tuesday.

They also seized another town, Sake. On Thursday, government spokesman Lambert Mende said the army had recaptured it but journalists in the town say it is now controlled by the M23 rebels.

Tens of thousands of people have fled the town, which is now nearly deserted, reports the AP news agency.

The rebels, who are widely believed to be backed by Rwanda and Uganda, have threatened to advance towards the capital Kinshasa unless President Joseph Kabila opens direct peace talks.

Uganda is due to host a summit over the weekend with the presidents of Rwanda and DR Congo among other regional countries. Some M23 leaders have also reportedly flown to Kampala.

The report, written for the UN by a group of independent experts, said Gen Amisi ran a network providing arms to criminal groups and rebels operating in eastern DR Congo, where numerous different armed groups still operate.

"Gen Gabriel Amisi oversees a network distributing hunting ammunition for poachers and armed groups, including Raia Mutomboki," the report says.

The M23 was not among the armed groups named in the report although Raia Mutomboki, one of several Mai Mai, or local community armed groups, is thought in some instances to have allied itself with the M23.

The UN report said Gen Amisi ordered 300 AK-47 assault rifles be given to another armed group operating in eastern DR Congo, known as Nyatura.

It says ammunition is being bought in neighbouring Republic of Congo and smuggled through Kinshasa to the east by a network of Gen Amisi's associates, including members of his family.

A separate UN investigation earlier this month said that Mai Mai Raia Mutomboki and Nyatura, along with the Rwandan FDLR rebel group, had been responsible for the deaths of more than 260 civilians in a wave of tit-for-tat ethnic massacres in remote parts of North Kivu province.

Meanwhile, M23 rebels have rejected a call by regional leaders to withdraw from the main eastern city of Goma, capital of North Kivu province.

About 500,000 people have been displaced by the rebellion since April.

A UN report has accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing the M23, saying the chain of command culminates with Rwandan Defence Minister James Kabarebe.

Both countries strongly deny the accusations.

The M23's gains have raised fears of renewed war in DR Congo, where some five million people died in a conflict from 1997-2003.

The UN Security Council has adopted a resolution condemning the rebel seizure of Goma and calling for sanctions against M23 leaders.

The group was formed in April after a mutiny in the army. The rebels said they were not given army posts promised in a 2009 deal to end a previous uprising.

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