REGIONAL - A tense stand-off has developed in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo between government troops and rebels loyal to Gen Laurent Nkunda.
Government forces are advancing towards the rebel stronghold of Mushaki, a BBC reporter at the scene says.
Gen. Nkunda says he will ignore a Monday deadline to start disbanding his army.
He said more talks with the government were necessary before his men could be integrated into the government army, and vowed to defend his position.
In an interview with the BBC’s Arnaud Zajtman, Gen Nkunda said that if the government were to attack Mushaki, “we will defend ourselves”.
He said eastern Congo was occupied by “negative forces”: a reference to Hutu rebel groups. “This is not normal, and the government must accept to discuss this issue,” he said.
Gen. Nkunda said he wanted discussions on the return of Congolese Tutsi refugees from neighbouring countries such as Rwanda and Burundi.
“Other refugees are coming back, but the Tutsi are not coming back,” he said.
“We ask the government to protect the Tutsi.”
Both the army and Gen Nkunda accuse each other of breaking a recent ceasefire.
DR Congo’s government sees Gen Nkunda as a criminal, and does not regard him as a legitimate negotiating partner, our correspondent reports.
Gen. Nkunda says he is fighting to protect DR Congo’s Tutsi minority and has accused the government of supporting the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) – extremist Hutus who fled to DR Congo after Rwanda Genocide.
The fighting in North Kivu province has raised concerns about thousands of displaced people who have been forced out of their homes.
Aid workers say people are heading further north into rebel-held territory, where they are now unable to reach them. The army scored their first real victory against Gen Nkunda’s forces with the capture of Karuba last week.
Government soldiers have taken up positions on the road south of Mushaki and on the surrounding mountains.
A five-year war in DR Congo ended in 2003, but the 17,600 UN peacekeepers in the country (4,300 of them in North Kivu alone) have struggled to keep a lid on instability since then