A displaced Congolese family carry their belongings on the road between Rutshuru and Goma, after the village of Kimbumba was occupied by an armed militia consisting of former members of the National Congress for the Defence of the People.

Kibumba - Congolese army deserters led by former general Bosco Ntaganda were in a gunfight with soldiers in the eastern DRC town of Kimbumba overnight, an army captain said on Tuesday.

“We started fighting around midnight (22h00 GMT on Monday),” he told reporters. “General Bosco Ntaganda was in the ranks” of the mutineers, who are former members of the rebel National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP).

“After a heavy gun battle lasting four hours in Kibumba, we were backed by heavy weapons fire,” said the captain, himself a former member of the CNDP who integrated into the army under a 2009 peace deal with Kinshasa.

The captain did not give a casualty toll.

Hundreds of former CNDP members mutinied last month, complaining of inhumane treatment in the regular army. Fierce clashes have broken out between deserters and loyalists, forcing hundreds of people to flee their homes.

“The mutineers dispersed into the woods behind Kibumba, which they crossed last night,” the captain said, adding that they were “numerous” and were headed to Virunga, a nature reserve on the border with Rwanda famous for its mountain gorillas.

Local people “panicked” when they saw the mutineers arriving and fled Kibumba for Goma, the Nord-Kivu capital 30km away, he said.

“It's too bad the general doesn't want to surrender as well as the other colonels,” he said.

At the weekend the army said they had brought the situation under control in the remote region of the vast Central African country, and gave the mutineers five days to surrender.

“We are military men. When the time is up, if the mutineers don't surrender, we are going to pursue operations against them,” Colonel Sylvain Ekenge, the military spokesperson in the unstable Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu provinces, told reporters.

Ntaganda, nicknamed “The Terminator”, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes including recruiting child soldiers when he was part of a militia in the early part of the last decade.

Locals accuse Ntaganda's men of murder, rape and looting. - Sapa-AFP