DR Congo army, rebels in fresh clashes
KINSHASA — Clashes erupted again early on Saturday between army soldiers and M23 rebels in the volatile eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where fighting has been flaring all week.
The clashes in the Nord Kivu region, which a rebel spokesman said involved army helicopters and tanks, erupted hours after the United Nations put its peacekeepers in the region on high alert.
The peacekeepers deployed rapid reaction units to key areas around the provincial capital Goma and the city’s airport after daylong battles between the M23 and the army Thursday reportedly left a large number of casualties.
UN attack helicopters were also on standby, according to spokesman Martin Nesirky.
The two sides blamed each other for the new outbreak of violence.
“Early this morning they attacked,” said army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Olivier Hamuli.
A spokesman for the rebels, Colonel Vianney Kazarama, countered that the army “attacked us with helicopters and tanks.”
Government troops held off an M23 rebels attack on Thursday at Kibumba, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) northeast of Goma, officials said.
An M23 spokesman denied government claims that more than 110 rebels were killed in the battle.
The fighting was the most serious in the rebellion since July when UN attack helicopters were last put into action against M23.
The M23 group broke away from the national army in April, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a recent report that the rebels now pose a long-term threat to the government.
“Reprisal attacks on civilians are intensifying, fueling cycles of hatred and violence among different communities,” Ban warned in the report.
UN experts have said Rwanda and Uganda back the rebels, bringing strong denials from the neighbouring governments.
The UN sanctions committee for DR Congo this week ordered a travel ban and assets freeze against M23 leader Sultani Makenga, a former army colonel. The US government has also announced sanctions.
Diplomats said the 15-member Security Council was unlikely to agree sanctions urged against Rwanda’s defense minister, General James Kabarebe.
Ban also said, without naming any countries, that he was “disturbed by continuing reports of external support to the M23.”
He praised “the strong condemnation by a number of member states of all forms of support to the M23 and other negative forces” operating in the country and called for a halt to “this destabilising assistance.”AFP