12 militias killed in clashes with army in Ituri

The situation remained tense in the localities of Avena and Marabo in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, even though fighting at the weekend between the army and militias had ended, the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC) said on Monday.

"The militias have retreated to Tchei, but MONUC has stepped up patrols as the situation remains tense," Leocadio Salmeron, a MONUC spokesman, said of the fighting in the volatile Ituri District of the country.

"No population movements have been observed," he added.

Salmeron said 12 militia fighters had been killed. Congolese army officials said they were members of the Front des résistants patriotes de l'Ituri (FRPI), headed by Cobra Matata.

"We have buried 12 militiamen killed during the fighting," Brig-Gen Mbuayama Nsionahe, the army operational officer, said.

He said the army had not suffered any casualties.

However, a captain and another soldier serving with MONUC were wounded and taken to hospital in Bunia, the main town in Ituri, which is in Orientale Province, Salmeron said. MONUC troops used helicopter gunships, infantry and armoured vehicles to support the Congolese troops, he added.

According to MONUC, the fighting erupted early on Saturday when FRPI forces attacked an army position. The fighting lasted four hours and came a week after the same rebel group battled the army in Siango, 30 km south of Bunia. Some 14 militias were killed during that fighting, which also forced villagers to flee.

The FRPI is opposed to a programme to demobilise and integrate militias into the national army or into civilian life, with a view to ending the war in the east of the country.

Ituri has remained one of the most volatile in the country, with militias frequently involved in fighting the army. However, a peace process that began in 2002 has been largely on course, enabling the troubled country to hold elections in July. A run-off presidential poll between the incumbent, Joseph Kabila, and vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba, is scheduled for 29 October.

ei/jn/oss/mw