Hundreds of members of the rebel National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), which was integrated into the regular army under a 2009 peace deal, have deserted in recent days over what they call inhumane living conditions and other issues.
Among the three officers known to have deserted was ColonelInnocent Kaina. Soldiers located him near Bunagana, a town in the province of Nord Kivu on the Ugandan border.
“We found him there, we are in the process of neutralising him,” army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Sylvain Ekenge said. “He is with about a dozen men including body guards.”
Local residents fled after a lengthy firefight between regular soldiers and deserters.
Kaina commanded a regiment in a town about 30 kilometres (20 miles) from Bunagana.
Congolese ex-warlord Bosco Ntaganda, now an army general who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of using child soldiers to fight in his militia group, said he had not deserted.
Still, Ntaganda’s aide listed deserters’ grievances, including “inhumane living conditions”, poor pay, bad food and a lack of promotions.
The CNDP was integrated into the army in 2009 under a peace deal designed to end the conflict in eastern Congo, which at its height saw multiple rebel groups and several African countries do battle in the unstable region.
Also known by his nom-de-guerre, “Indian Queen”, Kaina has been listed in several United Nations reports as being involved in gold and mineral trafficking.