By Emmy Allio in Aru, DR Congo
Another brigade commander of Thomas Lubanga's Union for Patriotic Congolese (UPC) has defected to the Ugandan forces (UPDF) with 2,000 soldiers.
Alex Munyalizi's defection followed his declaration that he was now independent. Recently, another UPC brigade commander, Jerome Kakawavu, defected to the UPDF with about 1,500 fighters. He now controls the border towns of Aru, Mahagi and Omgbokoro.
Following Munyalizi's defection, the UPDF yesterday captured Bogoro, Irumu and Kamanda towns.
"We now control all the areas in the northwest and west of Bunia. UPC is virtually finished," a senior UPDF officer said on satellite phone from Bunia.
Munyalizi is the younger brother to the Hema chief, Kisembo Bitamara.
Kisembo yesterday said his brother crossed to the UPDF side because of UPC's anti-people policy.
"It was wrong for Lubanga to imagine that the population in Ituri would be against the UPDF, our brothers," Kisembo said.
He said the six Hema chiefs were loyal to the anti-UPC coalition, Front for The Integration and Pacification of Ituri (FIPI), whose leaders include Kawa Mandro, the Bahema Banywagi chief.
UPDF sources said the capture of Irumu was a big step in the campaign against the pro-Rwanda UPC because Rwanda was using the town's long airfield to reinforce the UPC troops.
The sources said the UPDF had also captured the Lake Albert shore towns of Tshomia and Kasenyi.
Army spokesman Maj. Shaban Bantariza yesterday said chief Mandro had handed over 40 UPC soldiers and 33 guns to the UPDF. The soldiers surrendered to him.