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AWOL soldiers return to base

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KINSHASA, 2 Sep 2005 (IRIN) - One of two army battalions in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that the military reported as missing on 26 August, may not have been absent; while the other battalion has since returned to its barracks, Defence Minister Adolphe Onusumba said on Thursday.

"There was no desertion, it was a problem of communication," he said at a news conference in Kinshasa, the nation's capital.

Two days earlier Onusumba had told IRIN the army would "arrest those who instigated the desertion"; referring to the 500 to 700 troops of the 53rd Battalion based at the village of Burungu, 45 km north of Goma, capital of North Kivu Province.

The commander of the 8th Military Region in North Kivu, Gen Gabriël Amisi, said on Thursday that the troops of the 53rd who had fled had returned to base, although he did not say where they had gone. He said an investigation was underway into their movements as well as the whereabouts of unspecified number of troops from the 8th military region's 2nd Mixed Battalion at Kanyabayonga, 109 km north of Goma.

However, Onusumba's spokesman, Delion Kimbulumpu, said only the 53rd had gone missing and that reports that the same had happened to the 2nd Mixed Battalion were untrue.

"They are deployed where they should be," he said.

Many of the soldiers in both battalions are Congolese Tutsis who were combatants in the former rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD). They were reported missing at the same time that a dissident national army general and former RCD member, Laurent Nkunda, distributed a communiqué in Goma calling for the renewal of hostilities against the government in Kinshasa.

That call raised the spectre that this might have been the reason for the disappearance of the soldiers. However, a deputy spokeswoman for the UN Mission DRC, Rachel Eklou-Assogbavi, said there no link.

Onusumba said the members of the 53rd fled out of fear. They were being taken to another centre to be integrated with other members of the new national army.

"The troops had listened to some of their leaders who told them that they were going to be killed," Onusumba said.


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