KINSHASA, 31 August 2007 (IRIN) – Thousands of villagers who had fled the first clashes between the army (FARDC) and militias close to renegade general Laurent Nkunda in the Masisi hills, North Kivu province, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are starting to return home, according to UN sources.
"We have heard that the displaced are starting to return to their homes," said Christophe Illemassene of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
It is estimated that about a third of the population has been displaced. Since Masisi has about 26,000 people, that would mean about 8,500 displaced people returning home. According to Illemassene, however, it is impossible to estimate accurately the numbers involved because the area remains inaccessible.
However, as the first clashes stopped, new conflicts flared up on 30 August, causing many new displacements.
Early in the week (27 and 28 August), militias close to Nkunda took control of a position held by the regular army.
According to Illemassene, a dozen civilian injuries have been recorded in the Masisi hospital. The army spokesman in Goma, Colonel Delphin Kahindi, said 30 soldiers were injured but the enemy had suffered heavy fatalities.
The FARDC and the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) have reinforced their presence in two cities in Rutshuru territory where clashes took place with Nkunda militia, said MONUC sources.
According to MONUC spokesman, Major Gabriel de Brosses, all was quiet on 31 August in the cities of Masisi and Katale, both about 50 km from the regional capital, Goma, where FARDC and rebel groups had fought for six hours the previous day.
"MONUC deployed two Mi-25 helicopters over the fighting zones, preventing the fighters from starting again," he said.
He said the regular army held two positions that were fought over on Thursday and had sent reinforcements. MONUC has also reinforced its presence in the area.
"The city of Masisi is still being held by an Indian regiment of MONUC Blue Helmets, which have been reinforced with 400 men but there are still soldiers close to Laurent Nkunda in the area," he said.
He added that FARDC also held another position in Katale where there had been some fighting the previous day.
"The Congolese government opts for dialogue to resolve the conflict in both Kivus as dialogue does not kill anyone, but there are some people who do not want to understand it like that," defence minister Chikez Diemu told reporters.