Kinshasa: UN attack helicopters targeted M23 rebels in eastern Congo Sunday after fighting resumed following a months-long lull in violence, a local official said.
Two army officers and 151 rebels were killed in a battle beginning yesterday that the UN called the worst clash between the M23 group and the military since July. Attack helicopters for the UN mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, had been on standby.
"MONUSCO helicopters this morning bombarded the M23 positions in the city of Kibumba," said North Kivu governor Julien Paluku. He said the Congolese army had earlier retreated from Kibumba, which is 30 kilometers north of Goma, after thousands of Rwandans, who he says were backing the rebels, attacked early today.
"The fighting was very violent between the Congolese military and the M23 rebels back by the Rwandan army," he said. "Rwandan forces bombarded our positions in Kibumba since early this morning and an estimated 3,500 crossed the border to attack us."
Reports by United Nations experts have accused Rwanda and Uganda of supporting the rebels. Both countries strongly deny any involvement and Uganda said if the charges continue it will pull its peacekeeping troops of Somalia where they are playing an important role in pushing out the Islamist extremist rebels.
The M23 was created after officers from the Congolese army defected in April and May and launched a rebellion to demand better pay, armaments and amnesty from war crimes.
Direct fighting broke out yesterday in Rugari, the town between the M23 and the Congolese army positions, only 30 kilometers from Goma, the provincial capital, and around 15 kilometers from Kanyaruchinya, a camp where more than 60,000 people have already sought refuge from the fighting since June.