UN confirms desertions but says some troops have already returned to base

Soldiers from the 12th brigade deserted their posts in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the last week, the military spokesman for the UN said on Tuesday, but 580 of them have already returned to base.

"MONUC convinced them to return to their barracks in Katale [50 km north of the provincial capital Goma] and to continue with the process of integrating with other former armed groups in the army," Lt Col Thierry Provendier, the spokesman for the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), said at a news conference in Kinshasa.

He said most of the soldiers had been tricked by their leaders into deserting. "Only their leaders wanted to desert," he said.

He did not say how many others remain absent without leave, or AWOL.

In August, the commander of the 8th Military Region, Gen Gabriël Amisi, issued statements about large numbers of troops defecting to join a dissident former general, Laurent Nkunda, who is fermenting a rebellion by Congolese Tutsis.

However, the army's chief of the general staff, Lt-Gen Kisempia Sungilanga, said at a news conference in Kinshasa on 13 September that the reports were "disinformation". In addition, a letter attributed to Nkunda also refuted the claims against him.

Provendier said that soldiers from the 8th Military Region were supporting MONUC's effort to solve the crisis of AWOL soldiers.

"MONUC's brigade in North Kivu has launched three operations from 12 to 15 September to halt the situation from going out of control," he said.