KINSHASA (Reuters) - Rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have sacked their political leader, the group’s military commander said, a sign of in-fighting likely to undermine regional efforts to end two decades of conflict.
The M23 rebellion is the latest uprising in Congo’s mineral rich eastern borderlands. Last year the group inflicted a series of defeats on government forces, culminating in the brief seizure of the major town of Goma.
There has been little progress in Ugandan-hosted peace talks launched since the rebels withdrew from the town under international pressure.
Eight people were killed in clashes between rival rebel factions earlier this week.
The M23 military command said in a statement that political coordinator Jean-Marie Runiga was ousted for stealing money and backing a rebel faction loyal to Bosco Ntaganda, a fighter wanted by the International Criminal Court.
The statement, released late on Wednesday and signed by military commander Sultani Makenga, said Makenga would take over the group’s leadership on an interim basis.
Runiga was not immediately available for comment on Thursday. Speaking to Reuters before the announcement on Wednesday he had denied any problems between himself and Makenga.
United Nations experts say Ntaganda, wanted by the ICC on charges of killing civilians during a previous uprising, has played a major command role within M23. This has been denied by the rebels.
The seizure of Goma was an embarrassment for Congo’s government and U.N. peacekeepers who are deployed to support Kinshasa’s forces.
Slow progress has since been made in readying the deployment of a 4,000-strong international force to hunt down an array of rebel groups still operating in Congo.
African leaders signed a U.N.-mediated deal on Sunday paving the way for the deployment of military brigades, having failed to reach agreement last month in a row over who would command the force.
Reporting by Jonny Hogg; Editing by David Lewis and Janet Lawrence