KINSHASA, 15 Sep 2005 (IRIN) - Reports that troops are defecting in large numbers to join a dissident former general fermenting a rebellion in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were refuted by an army spokesman in Kinshasa as well as by a letter purportedly written by the ex-general, Laurent Nkunda.
A spokeswomen for the UN Mission in the DRC, MONUC, Jacqueline Chenard, said a letter arrived at the office in Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu that was signed by Nkunda which stated, "We don't plan to revive war in the country except in a situation of self defence."
Chenard said the letter, dated 8 September, was also addressed to government authorities in the province. However, she said MONUC could not confirm the authenticity of the letter whose total contents she would not reveal.
The Congolese army's chief of the general staff, Lt-Gen Kisempia Sungilanga, held a news conference in Kinshasa on Tuesday and said that reports of a massive desertion by Tutsi soldiers in the DRC were "disinformation".
No more than 100 troops deserted, Sungilanga said, contradicting a statement made on Monday by Gen Gabriël Amisi, commander of the 8th Military Region at North Kivu, who said some 350 troops from the 124th Battalion had defected to join Nkunda.
Gen Amisi had said his troops deserted their posts at Katale, 50 km north of the provincial capital Goma, on Saturday and Sunday taking with them arms and ammunitions. He had said the 51st Battalion at Katale, "entrusted with stemming these desertions", had been deployed.
MONUC also said on Wednesday it had met with the troops that "had broken away from their unit in the locality of Katale, to move towards Kichanga" and convince 60 of them to return. In a communiqué issued on Wednesday, MONUC said it told the soldiers to make "a final choice between the military integration process or demobilised and a return to civilian life".
Last week the government in Kinshasa officially dismissed Nkunda and his dissident ally, ex-Col Jules Mutebusi, from the army and issued international warrants for their arrest.
Meanwhile, MONUC also said that a delegation of senior government and MONUC officials visited the North Kivu town of Beni on 9 September to announce that the presence of dissident forces from nearby Uganda - the Allied Democratic Forces and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda - "would no longer be tolerated".
The government announced on 8 September that all illegal foreign troops must leave the DRC by 30 September or face "serious consequences". The nature of these consequences will be on the agenda of the tripartite meeting - between DRC, Uganda and Rwanda - which will take place in New York on 16 September on the fringes of the UN summit, MONUC said.
In South Kivu, MONUC said the deployment of a company of South African UN troops at Shabunda was completed on 9 September.
"This unit of 150 troops is in a position, as from now, to secure this locality and to conduct actions around the town and on part of the territory," MONUC said on Wednesday.
It said two companies of MONUC's South Kivu Brigade along with 600 government troops had taken part in Operation Destiny Within on 9 September to locate "three groups of foreign combatants in the Kahuzi-Bienga Park and to collect very important information on the activities of these groups".
MONUC said the government troops carried out two missions in the park, with MONUC providing air and ground support as well as transport and communications. One of the missions was near the main road between the town of the Bunyakiri and Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu Province; the other near Lushasha on the main road between Bukavu and Kahele.
The aim of the operation was to "pressure" the foreign troops there to join the voluntary repatriation programme "before it's too late", MONUC said.