A former DR Congo rebel leader wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court on Tuesday denied any involvement in the deadly fighting which has plagued the country's east.
"I am not involved in the clashes pitting the FARDC (regular army) against the soldiers who defected," Jean-Bosco Ntaganda told AFP, in reference to army deserters who previously fought in his rebel group.
Mr Ntaganda's CNDP was incorporated into the army in 2009 following a peace deal with Kinshasa.
But a group of several hundred CNDP loyalists, including roughly a dozen senior officers, defected from the army earlier this month, citing unpaid salaries and inhumane living conditions among other complaints, and regrouped as a rebel force.
Some of the defectors attacked army troops on Sunday at Mwesa in the volatile Kivu Nord province, which borders Rwanda, and clashes have continued in the surrounding areas.
The army said Monday that it had launched an offensive to reclaim territory lost to the rebels and the United Nations reported more than 2,000 civilians had been displaced by the fighting.
The UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) said families have fled to a transit centre in Rwanda, while others had sought shelter in classrooms in the town of Saki, and AFP reporter witnessed late Monday.
"More than 50 percent are children," UNHCR spokeswoman in Kinshasa Celine Schmitt said Tuesday. "The reason for the flight given by the people arriving is the fighting between the government forces and those loyal to Ntaganda."
But the ex-rebel leader insisted he did not encourage his former loyalists to defect and that he did not order their current offensive.
"I learned that the mutineers had demands that pushed them to desert the ranks of the FARDC," Mr Ntaganda said.
"I am at my farm near Mushaki (also in Kivu Nord). "My superiors in the army know I'm here," he explained.
Ntaganda was indicted on war crimes charges in 2006 by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for using child soldiers.
"If the ICC has questions to ask me I can answer them because I don't blame myself for anything," the ex-rebel leader said.
Mr Ntaganda was indicted by The Hague-based court for alleged crimes committed in the northeastern Ituri Province in 2002-2003 when he fought alongside Thomas Lubanga in a separate rebel group.
Lubanga was convicted of war crimes by the ICC in March, the world's court first-ever verdict in the ten years since its founding.
Shortly after Lubanga was convicted, ICC vowed to step up efforts to convict Mr Ntaganda.
"I was the fourth ranking member of Lubanga's movement," Mr Ntaganda told AFP, seeking to dismiss the allegations against him. "Even Thomas Lubanga was just trying to defend himself."
The Congolese government has been heavily criticised for dealing with Ntaganda and for refusing to arrest him, but Kinshasa has said his cooperation is necessary to pacify the chronically-violent east.
The region has seen rolling conflict since 1997, when rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda invaded from the east and ultimately toppled Mobotu Sese Seko's dictatorship.