DR Congo rebels advance on eastern city


Rebels in eastern DR Congo advanced to the outskirts of Uvira near the Burundi border residents said, spreading panic and confining thousands of civilians to their homes.

The fighting between the Mai-Mai Yakutumba militia and the army was the latest example of mounting insecurity in the country since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down when his mandate expired last December.

Violence in eastern and central Congo has displaced over 1.5 million in the past year and revived fears of civil war in a country where conflicts from 1996-2003 killed millions and spawned dozens of armed groups who continue to prey on local populations and exploit natural resources.

Yakutumba fighters, mostly against Kabila, advanced to hillsides outside the lakeside city on Wednesday and army reinforcements deployed to try to push them back, according to Lubungula Dem’s M‘Sato, a member of a peace-building advocacy group in Uvira.
“The Yakutumba elements started advancing toward Uvira this morning,” M‘Sato told Reuters. “The gunfire is ongoing. Everyone is at home.”

The Catholic bishop of Uvira, Sebastien Muyengo, said heavy gunfire could be heard on-and-off in the hills throughout the day but shooting mostly abated by early evening.

Local army spokesman Dieudonne Kasereka said the military remained in control of Uvira, west of Bujumbura, where low-level political violence erupts periodically.

Mai-Mai Yakutumba, formed in 2007 by local militiamen opposed to integration in Congo’s national army, says it is spearheading a coalition of armed groups committed to driving government forces from the area.

It briefly seized several towns during clashes with the army in June that forced 80,000 people to flee.

Fighting has affected local gold mining operations. Canada’s Banro Corp said it had temporarily suspended operations at its Namoya mine in a neighbouring province due to road closures forced by armed groups, the latest in a series of security incidents to hit its mines in the area.

UN peacekeepers, sharply criticised in 2012 for failing to prevent eastern Congo’s largest city Goma falling to another rebellion, intervened in Uvira to drive off purported militiamen who attacked the city’s prison, a security source said. A UN spokeswoman could not be immediately reached for comment.