The day after a dissident army leader in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) called for an insurrection, the 53rd Army Battalion and four companies of the 2nd Mixed Battalion in the east of the country went missing.
"We have launched an investigation into the whereabouts of the battalion and will arrest those who instigated the desertion," Adolphe Onusumba, the minister of defence, told IRIN on Tuesday.
He said the 500 men of the 53rd, commanded by Maj Innocent Kabundi, disappeared on Friday from their base in the village of Burungu, 45 km north of Goma, capital of North Kivu Province.
Gen Gabriël Amisi, who commands the 8th Military Region in North Kivu, said on Tuesday that the four companies of the 2nd Mixed Battalion, under assistant battalion commander Capt Faustin Muhima, deserted their base in the town of Kanyabayonga, 109 km north of Goma. He would not specify how many soldiers were in the four companies.
Most of the deserters are Congolese Tutsis. They are either from the former army that was overthrown in 1997 or combatants in a former eastern rebel group, the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD).
Armed groups from the country's civil war are supposed to have some of their fighters integrated into the new national army, in accordance with a 2002 peace agreement. Amisi said soldiers of the 2nd Battalion who deserted their base in Kanyabayonga had been resisting integration.
"They fled because they did not want to go to the centre for integration," Amisi said.
On Thursday, a 17-page communiqué attributed to a dissident army general, Laurent Nkunda, was secretly distributed in Goma. The communiqué called for the renewal of hostilities against the government in Kinshasa. However, evidence that the troops deserted to join Nkunda’s insurgency remains circumstantial.