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2 May 2012 | Congo

Ex-rebel chief Ntaganda behind clashes: DR Congo governor

Soldiers of the Democratic Republic of Congo Armed Forces stand outside a general's residence in Goma.  By Phil Moore (AFP/File)
Soldiers of the Democratic Republic of Congo Armed Forces stand outside a general's residence in Goma. By Phil Moore (AFP/File)

GOMA, DR Congo (AFP) - A top Congolese official on Wednesday blamed ex-rebel leader Jean Bosco Ntaganda for recent clashes between the army and forces loyal to the general in the east of the country.

"The Congolese government has asked me to communicate the following -- everything that is happening currently in Masisi is under the responsibility of General Bosco Ntaganda and he should be sought for that," said Julien Paluku, governor of Nord-Kivu, where the Masisi region is located.

"If our units catch hold of him, he will have to answer for all his actions before Congolese jurisdictions," the governor said, adding that even if it takes "a war" to do so, "we will do it."

"We have established a link between Bosco Ntaganda and the FDLR," he said, referring to the rebel group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a major source of instability in the region.

"We have caught a FDLR element in Kidumba who respond to the name of Emmanuel Ndirenganya, who wanted to attack this area and who is fighting on the side of Major Gasore, someone close to Bosco Ntaganda," he explained.

Ntaganda told AFP on Tuesday that he was "not involved in the clashes pitting the FARDC (regular army) against the soldiers who defected."

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.

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.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila has been under pressure to arrest Ntaganda, who was indicted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court in 2006 for using child soldiers.

But the government had countered that Ntaganda's cooperation was needed to stabilise the war-ravaged east.

In April, a group of several hundred CNDP loyalists, including roughly a dozen senior officers, defected, citing unpaid salaries and inhumane living conditions among other complaints.

Some of the defectors attacked army troops on Sunday at Mwesa in the volatile Nord-Kivu province, which borders Rwanda, and clashes have continued in the surrounding areas.

The defectors have also joined forces with the Mai Mai militia which was accused of mass rapes of almost 400 people in the area in 2010.

Amnesty International said it has learnt that at least three women were killed on Monday in the town of Ngungu on Monday, but warned that the actual toll "may well be higher."

It also said the deserters were trying to recruit child soldiers.

"At least four children and seven young adults from the towns of Ngungu and Kitchanga have sought protection with the UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO, claiming they were threatened by soldiers who wanted to recruit them," said the rights group.

"The escalating violence in the DRC is deeply alarming and all parties to the conflict must ensure that civilians are not caught in the crossfire," said Paule Rigaud, Amnesty International's Deputy Programme Director for Africa.

"All sides should abide by international humanitarian law, in particular the prohibitions of indiscriminate attacks and the recruitment of child soldiers."

Kigali said Wednesday that more than 2,800 people had fled to Rwanda.

Eastern DR Congo has been the scene of rolling conflict since 1997, when rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda invaded from the east and ultimately toppled Mobotu Sese Seko's dictatorship.