Mai-Mai militias, loyal to the beleagured Congolese government, said they would take over the task of holding back rebel leader Laurent Nkunda's forces, as fighting in eastern DRC intensified.
Local Mai-Mai militiamen in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo claimed Tuesday they would take over the battle against rebel forces from the defeated government army.
Fighting had earlier broken out between forces loyal to renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda and the Mai-Mai militiamen, according to the UN.
The clashes between Nkunda's forces (CNDP) and members of the militia happened at Kiwanja near Rutshuru, around 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of the main eastern city of Goma, according to a spokeswoman for the UN's peace mission (MONUC) which has a small base in the area.
Rutshuru has been in rebel hands for a week.
"The FARDC (Congo government army) has been defeated," Didier Bitaki, military spokesman for the Mai-Mai armed forces in Nord-Kivu, of which Goma is the capital, told AFP.
"They have been pushed back to the outskirts of Goma. That is why we, Congolese patriots, have decided to rise up and take our destiny in our hands."
Mai-Mai are local self-defence militias comprised of different local ethnic groups who back government forces and accuse Nkunda of being backed by Rwanda.
Rebel spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa confirmed clashes had taken place and said Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebels and government forces had taken part in the fighting alongside the Mai-Mai.
"The FDLR, the Mai-Mai and the FARDC forces tried to take the town. They were pushed back several kilometres from the town," he said, adding that the clashes had involved heavy weapons and had begun around 10:30 am (0830 GMT).
"It was a deliberate, prepared, attack," said Bisimwa. "It was not an accident. They deliberately left their positions to come and attack us. We cannot leave them the benefit of the doubt, they chose war."
"Fighting stopped this afternoon," the Mai-Mai's Bitaki said. "We pulled back a little and now we are positioned 500 metres north of Kiwanja."
The Mai-Mai spokesman said their offensive would resume the following day with the aim of taking Rumangabo and possibly Kibumba, villages between Goma and Rutshuru captured by the rebels last week.
He denied that Hutu rebls and government army troops had fought alongside the militias.
Shortly after the clashes took place Congolese Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito arrived in Goma. Nkunda's men are about 15 kilometres (nine miles) away and appear to be respecting the unilateral ceasefire they declared on October 29.
Date created : 2008-11-04