By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council expressed serious concern on Thursday over recent clashes between the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo and soldiers loyal to a renegade general wanted by the International Criminal court for war crimes.
The 15-member body called for an immediate end to a rebellion partly driven by General Bosco Ntaganda, who fought the government as a rebel before he was integrated into the army alongside other insurgents as part of a 2009 peace deal.
Clashes erupted again several weeks ago after President Joseph Kabila announced he would try to arrest Ntaganda. The region remains plagued by myriad rebel groups after a 1998-2003 war.
The International Criminal Court has been seeking Ntaganda's arrest on charges that he recruited children to fight in a bloody ethnic conflict in northeastern Congo that grew out of the broader civil war. Ntaganda denies involvement in war crimes.
The most recent burst of fighting came in the Masisi region of North Kivu late on Sunday and forced thousands of residents to flee their homes, some of them into neighboring Rwanda, aid groups have said.
In a statement, the Security Council "expressed deep concern over the worsening security and humanitarian situation in the area, and particularly the increasing number of displaced persons in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and refugees in neighboring countries."
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the council behind closed doors that some 200,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo since December 2011, a council diplomat who was present told Reuters.
The Security Council statement said the council had reiterated its demand that all armed groups "immediately cease all forms of violence, including sexual violence, and human rights abuses against the civilian population in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, lay down their arms and demobilize."
The U.N. special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, Margot Wallström, said on Wednesday she was concerned by the deteriorating situation because the most recent clashes were in the same area where at least 387 women, men and children were the targets of sexual violence in 2010 by the same rebels.
"The situation is again causing immense suffering for civilians who are experiencing displacement, human rights violations, and loss of property," she said in a statement.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau; Editing by David Brunnstrom)