LUBUMBASHI, 23 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - Relief workers say that fighting between the Congolese army and Mayi-Mayi militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Katanga Province has spread to a new area south of the town of Mitwaba in recent days, with militiamen there becoming increasingly dangerous and destructive.
"We never saw them this aggressive before," said Phillip Havet, a Medècines Sans Frontiéres (MSF) logistics expert who was in the area last week.
He said the Mayi-Mayi had "completely wiped out" the town of Kyubo, 160 km south of Mitwaba, on 16 January.
"Previously, it was the army that attacked the Mayi-Mayi, but now the Mayi-Mayi are attacking the army first," he said. "Their old strategy when they took a town or village was to kill the soldiers and leave. This time they destroyed everything."
Around 5,000 residents of Kyubo fled in different directions. "Some took the road south; others north. Still others just went into hiding in the bush," Havet added.
The Congolese army in the region launched an offensive in November 2005 to kill or capture one of the main Mayi-Mayi leaders in Katanga, Kyungu Mutanga, who goes by the alias Gedeon.
However, Havet said he did not think the fighters who destroyed Kyubo were under Gedeon's command. "They appear to be a Mayi-Mayi group made up of civilians who have taken up arms against the army to stop them stealing and raping," he said.
The Mayi-Mayi could be moving north, he said, and MSF was prepared to quickly evacuate its team in Mitwaba, where it is assisting more than 25,000 people who were displaced recently.
"We already evacuated our team there in March 2005 for three weeks, and that could very well happen again soon," he said.