KIBUMBA, DR Congo — Congolese army deserters led by ex-general Bosco Ntaganda were in a gunfight with soldiers in the eastern DR Congo town of Kimbumba overnight, an army captain said Tuesday.
"We started fighting around midnight (2200 GMT Monday)," he told AFP. "General Bosco Ntaganda was in the ranks" of the mutineers, who are former members of rebel group the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP).
"After a heavy gun battle lasting four hours in Kibumba, we were backed by heavy weapons fire," said the captain, himself a former member of the CNDP who integrated into the army under a 2009 peace deal with Kinshasa.
The captain did not give a casualty toll.
Hundreds of former CNDP members mutinied last month, complaining of inhumane treatment in the regular army. Fierce clashes have broken out between deserters and loyalists, forcing hundreds of people to flee their homes.
"The mutineers dispersed ... into the woods behind Kibumba, which they crossed last night," the captain said, adding that they were "numerous" and were headed to Virunga, a nature reserve on the border with Rwanda famous for its mountain gorillas.
Local people "panicked" when they saw the mutineers arriving and fled Kibumba for Goma, the Nord-Kivu capital some 30 kilometres (20 miles) away, he said.
"It's too bad the general doesn't want to surrender as well as the other colonels," he said.
At the weekend the army said they had brought the situation under control in the remote region of the vast central African country, and gave the mutineers five days to surrender.
"We are military men. When the time is up, if the mutineers don't surrender, we are going to pursue operations against them," Colonel Sylvain Ekenge, the military spokesman in the unstable Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu provinces, told AFP.
Ntaganda, nicknamed the "Terminator", is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes including recruiting child soldiers when he was part of a militia in the early part of the last decade.
Locals accuse Ntaganda's men of killings, rape and looting.
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