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More fighting breaks out in the east

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KINSHASA, 5 Dec 2006 (IRIN) - Renewed fighting broke out on Tuesday between dissident soldiers allied to a former army chief and the regular army in the eastern province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The fighting erupted in Bunagana, 60 km northeast of Goma, the main town in the province along the Ugandan border, after six days of calm following the retaking of the town of Sake by government and United Nations troops.

Sake, 28 km northwest of Goma, had been taken by dissident army troops under Gen Laurent Nkunda on Sunday, but he lost it a day later in a counterattack by the army.

"The fighting resumed this morning because the insurgents carried out a surprise attack on our positions in the village of Runyoni, as well as in the town of Bunagana, and we have taken the necessary measures for our defence," Col. Dephin Kahindi, the Congolese Army Operations commander for North Kivu, said.

According to the head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Goma, Patrick Lavand'Homme, local residents were moving towards the Ugandan border.

"Their number is unknown and humanitarian access has not been possible due to the insecurity," he added.

The fighting occurred days after Saturday's visit to Sake by the newly re-elected president, Joseph Kabila.

According to Kahindi, the dissidents seemed to have accepted the proposals made by Kabila for their return to army integration centres, where other rival factions were encamped, and for their leader, Nkunda, to come out of hiding and engage freely in politics.

"We thought that Nkunda and his acolytes had acceded to this request but we were surprised when they continued attacking our positions," Kahindi said, adding that there were no casualty figures available yet.

The UN Mission in the Congo did not comment.

Tuesday's attacks occurred a day before Kabila takes the oath of office. Kabila's victory in the second round of the presidential elections was endorsed by the Supreme Court of Justice on 27 November. He garnered 52 percent of the votes against 42 percent by his opponent, Jean-Pierre Bemba.

At least 15,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in Sake, in which nine soldiers and one civilian were killed, according to a report by the Congolese army.

ei/aw/mw


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