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Behind DR Congo's rebel lines

By Arnaud Zajtman
BBC News, Mushake

Rebel soldier walks on hillside
Mushake offers strategic advantage - and a lovely view

The town of Mushake in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is once more in the hand of rebel forces, only a week after they were driven out by the army.

The rebels sang and danced to celebrate, but unlike the government soldiers when they took the town, they drank fresh milk, not alcohol.

And they remained watchful.

The town is usually inhabited mostly by ethnic Tutsis, well known as cattle herders.

But now, the town, famous in more peaceful times for its cheese, is almost deserted.

Only a few civilians have made their way back to this hilltop town.

Others are waiting with hundreds of their cows on the surrounding mountainsides.

Foot

The bad, sweet smell of dead bodies is in the air in parts of the town.

On the only road that goes through Mushake, a pothole has been filled with a body covered by a bit of mat. Part of a foot is sticking out.

Our families... fear they would be killed if they come back
Col Munyakazi

Wooden stalls have been looted by the government forces who controlled this place for a few days.

Some houses that contained ammunition supplies were destroyed.

But there is no shortage of ammunition.

The rebels crossed town on foot loaded with supplies.

On a brand-new-looking box of ammunition for AK-47s that was abandoned by the government forces, is written "Harare, Zimbabwe Defence Industries".

Zimbabwe supported President Joseph Kabila's father Laurent Kabila in the regional war that involved six nations (1998-2003) but it is not clear whether Joseph has maintained this relationship.

Strategic

The rebels have set up a camp on the hill that overlooks Mushake and all the mountains of Massissi , all the way down to the Lake Kivu.

"Now we can see everything, who is coming," says Col Munyakazi, a rebel officer.

map

It is in the south of the 1,500 km2 territory of North Kivu, where Gen Nkunda operates and lies on the road from the regional capital, Goma, to the tin mines of Walikale.

The rebels say that they are the only ones who can protect members of their own Tutsi community against the Hutus who have been marauding across eastern DR Congo since 1994, when they were defeated after being involved in the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda.

"Our families are in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi," says Col Munyakazi.

"They are not coming back because there is no security here. They fear they would be killed if they came back."

However, non-Tutsis in the region fear Gen Nkunda and his men.

They are blamed for rapes, looting and massacres. Mass graves were found near Rutshuru, about 60 km north of Goma, after his men stormed the town about three months ago.

The United Nations Mission in DR Congo (Monuc) has accused him of the forced recruitment of child soldiers and the government has issued an international warrant for his arrest.

The government says it is the army's duty to protect all the population and has ordered Gen Nkunda's Tutsi rebels to disarm.

Army divided

But the Congolese army does not always protect the population.

Rebels celebrate their victory
The rebels celebrate without alcohol, unlike the army
In one incident, government troops near Katale, some 40 km further west, abandoned their positions and stole hundreds of goats from the local population, according to witnesses in the town.

There is tension within the ranks of the Congolese army.

Many soldiers blame the recent set-backs on one of their own top commanders whom they accuse of corruption and of secretly siding with the rebels.

It is hard to understand how Mushake was captured.

A few hundred rebels took control of the town and forced the well-equipped government soldiers to pull out, after army commanders had boasted of a "major victory".

Monuc had said it would use force to help the army in its offensive as a last resort but there is no evidence that it has done this so far.

The UN peacekeepers have helped transport troops and ammunition and to evacuate wounded soldiers.

Some Monuc contingents are reportedly unwilling to risk casualties by getting caught up in the fighting.

Apart from the allegations of corruption within the army, there might be a simpler reason for the rebels swift recapture of their lost territory - they know the terrain better and are more determined to keep hold of it.



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