Heavy fighting took place in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday between the Congolese army and a rebel militia following a breakdown of talks, U.N. officials said.
Colonel Felix Basse, the military spokesman for the U.N. mission in Congo (MONUSCO) said fighters from the Ituri Patriotic Resistance Force (FRPI) advanced close to a U.N. camp but were repelled by peacekeeping troops.
Congolese troops – who sometimes fight alongside the U.N. force against various rebel groups – chased the fleeing rebels to the nearby town of Gety. They captured two rebel camps while sustaining a few minor injuries, he said.
Negotiations between the rebels and the Congolese army stalled following the arrest on January 5 of the rebel leader, Cobra Matata, by Congolese authorities in the nearby city of Bunia, where he had entered talks in late November to surrender.
The rising tensions in Aveba, where some 400 rebels had massed during negotiations, has forced at least 30,000 people to flee their homes near Aveba in the last week, said Maurizio Giuliano, head of the U.N. humanitarian office in Congo’s northeastern Oriental Province.
The FRPI, first formed in 2002, is regarded as one of the most rapacious rebel groups operating in the region, which has reserves of copper, gold, diamonds.
Giuliano said violence had created a precarious situation and all humanitarian projects in the affected areas have been suspended for security reasons.
MONUSCO’s military commander and his deputy both visited Aveba in the last few days to lead mediation.
The Congolese army and the U.N. force are also preparing operations against another rebel group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, in neighbouring North and South Kivu provinces.