Congo Dem Republic: New fighting in eastern DR Congo as PM visits
Mutineers and army loyalists clashed again in the jungles of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday, just as the prime minister visited to assess the region's security.
Soldiers have for months been scouring parts of Virunga National Park for ex-rebels who had integrated the army under a 2009 peace deal but quit this year over poor conditions.
Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo arrived in the region on a United Nations helicopter around 1200 GMT in the town of Tshengerero in Nord-Kivu province, before heading to the nearby town of Bunagana on the border with Uganda.
As he arrived, the gunfire and explosions that have rattled the surrounding hillsides for weeks resumed. An AFP reporter could hear the blasts from Bunagana.
Flanked by a team of 10 ministers accompanying him on the visit, Matata Ponyo told Bunagana residents in a speech that President Joseph Kabila "sent us to take the pulse of the situation on the ground.
"We want to quickly end your suffering and end this war," he said.
"The logistical and financial support of the government will reinforce the military so they can kick the enemies out of our national territory," the prime minister later told journalists.
In Tshengerero, about a dozen women awaited the prime minister, banging tin cans and shouting: "You bring death once again to Bunagana."
Many residents of Bunagana and neighbouring communities have fled the violence and sought refuge in Uganda.
At one refugee centre across the border, the UN's refugee agency says it has registered about 13,000 people.
Matata Ponyo spent about four and a half hours in the two towns before heading to provincial capital Goma.
The fighting died down soon after his departure.
Each side accused the other of restarting the hostilities. There were no immediate casualty reports.
The European Union is "strongly concerned" about the ongoing mutiny, the bloc's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Thursday.
Colonel Vianney Kazarama, spokesman for the mutineers, on Thursday accused the UN's mission in DR Congo of flying helicopters too close to the zone it occupies.
"We let them go by without any problems, but (the mission) is using our area without asking us. It's a form of provocation, it's serious, and it risks a reaction," Kazarama said.
The mutineers are Congolese Tutsis and former rebels of the National Congress for the Defence of the People, who were integrated into the Congolese army under a peace agreement signed on March 23, 2009.
They began in early April to defect in large numbers from their military units in Sud-Kivu and Nord-Kivu, claiming poor treatment and demanding the full implementation of the 2009 deal on wages, food, promotions and duties.
The government says the mutiny is being led by General Bosco Ntaganda, a former rebel commander who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on a war crimes charge of recruiting child soldiers.
The mutineers deny Ntaganda is their leader.
Human Rights Watch said in a report this week that Rwanda, whose regime is largely Tutsi, was supporting the fugitive Ntaganda by allowing him to cross the border freely and providing him with weapons and recruits.
Kigali has vehemently denied the charge.
The DR Congo government says its army has killed 200 mutineers and wounded 250 since the fighting began, and that another 374 have surrendered, "including 25 Rwandan citizens".
Kazarama, the spokesman for the mutineers, called the figures "completely false".
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