Gunfire and explosions from heavy weapons erupted in Congo’s eastern city of Bukavu on Sunday, witnesses said, as Congolese troops clashed with those loyal to a renegade colonel.
Democratic Republic of Congo army spokesman for South Kivu region, Dieudonne Kasereka, said by telephone that clashes had started after police came to disarm Colonel Abbas Kayonga, who was sacked from his post on Thursday.
Security has been deteriorating across Congo since the end of last year when President Joseph Kabila refused to step down despite his mandate expiring.
Surging militia violence in the east, which has for decades been a tinderbox of ethnic rivalries fueled by the region’s mineral wealth, and in the formerly peaceful central Kasai region, have raised fears the country could slip back to the multi-faceted civil wars of the turn of the century.
Those wars killed hundreds of thousands directly in violence while millions of others are thought to have died from of hunger and disease.
Kayonga is a former rebel from a group that was successfully disarmed and integrated into the Congolese military.
“We are determined to arrest him and make him face justice,” Kasereka said.
Two security sources estimated the size of Kayonga’s faction at about 40 men.
The national electoral commission was expected to announce a date for the election to replace Kabila later on Sunday. Last month, it said the election cannot take place until April 2019, raising fears of an escalation in militia violence and civil disturbances.
U.S. envoy Nikki Haley, after meeting with Kabila last month, said the vote must happen in 2018 or it will lose international support.