KINSHASA (Reuters) – UN attack helicopters hit rebel positions in eastern Congo yesterday after insurgents gained ground in heavy fighting with government troops and took control of a town, the United Nations said.
The clashes to the south of the town Kibumba mean the rebels have advanced to within 30 km (18 miles) of Goma, the closest they have been to North Kivu’s provincial capital since a rebellion exploded in the eastern provinces eight months ago.
North Kivu Governor Julien Paluku said the army retreated to the southern outskirts of the town after M23 rebels – a group of soldiers who mutinied in April – advanced with support from neighbouring Rwanda. A Congolese government statement said 4,000 Rwandans had crossed the border, although Kinshasa later reduced that estimate to 3,500. Rwanda rejected the accusations, the latest in a string of charges by the Congolese government in Kinshasa. The Rwandan government called on Congo’s army and the rebels to halt the fighting as shells were landing in its territory.
“Kibumba has fallen into the hands of the M23,” a spokesman for the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations said in an email. “Latest reports indicate that the FARDC (Congo’s army) and MONUSCO (UN) forces are attempting to hold off a possible M23 advance toward Goma at Kibati, some 20 km north of Goma.”
“We are not in a position to confirm direct Rwandan involvement in the M23 attacks,” the spokesman said. “However, we are very concerned by reports that the M23 attacking forces appear to be well-equipped and supplied.”