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Dozens killed in army operation against Rwandan rebels

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Photo: Tiggy Ridley/IRIN
Clashes between troops of the DRC government and rebel forces have claimed 53 lives in the past two days
BUNIA, 3 May 2007 (IRIN) - Dozens of Rwandan rebels have been killed in heavy fighting with government troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) eastern North Kivu province since Wednesday, a senior military officer said.

"We have taken over two positions that were occupied by the rebels and we have also recovered some weapons," Colonel Delphin Kahindi, the commander of the DRC army in the region, told IRIN on Thursday.

He put the death toll among fighters of the Forces démocratiques de la libération du Rwanda (FDLR) at 48, while the Forces armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) lost five men. Fighting on Thursday was concentrated around Kiseguru in Rutshuru territory, about 100km from the town of Goma.

"We are in total control of the situation," said Kahindi. "The objective of the operation is to push back the rebels towards zones where nobody lives and to secure roads and villages," he added, saying that the rebels - remnants of the former Rwandan army and ethnic Hutu militias blamed for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda - were being forced back towards the Virunga National Park.

On Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) accused all armed groups in the region - including the FARDC, which was formed after government troops were integrated with former DRC rebel fighters in line with a peace agreement that formally ended the civil war - of committing atrocities against civilians.

"The FARDC, the FDLR and the Mai Mai [militia] have committed serious violations, including plunder, sexual violence and direct attacks on civilians," UNHCR's spokesman Jens Hesemann said in a statement. "The FARDC, mainly the newly mixed brigades, have the perception that the local population collaborates with militias and therefore commit attacks on civilians."

The fighting is reported to have displaced thousands of civilians since the operation against the FDLR and their Mai Mai militia allies began in January.

"We have already identified 1,000 families who have moved around Kanyabayonga since the beginning of the operations," said Patrick Lavandome, the officer in charge of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in North Kivu. Kanyabayonga is about 250km north of Goma, the capital of the region.

rp/re/jn/mw


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