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Fighting resumes in eastern DRC

23 July 2013, 10:00

Goma - Fresh fighting raged in the Democratic Republic of Congo's restive east for several hours Monday as army helicopters attacked positions of the M23 rebels, who fired mortars in return, both sides said.

The latest clashes in the central African country's mineral-rich but conflict-torn east broke four days of relative calm, further damaging a tattered truce that had lasted from late May, when UN chief Ban Ki-moon visited the region, until July 14.

"There have been clashes between our troops and the M23," a Congolese officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"The M23 are firing mortars... and we've engaged helicopters to attack the enemy positions."

The M23, a group launched by Tutsi ex-soldiers who mutinied from the army in April 2012, confirmed the clashes and said army helicopters were attacking its positions around the towns of Kibati, just north of the flashpoint city of Goma, and Uvira, some 300 kilometres (200 miles) to the south.

"Since this morning the government has regularly been using helicopters... to bomb our positions in the Kibati and Uvira areas, but without success," M23 spokesperson Vianney Kazarama told AFP.

He said the clashes stopped in the late afternoon, while a government officer told AFP on condition of anonymity there was a "lull" in the fighting.

There were no immediate reports of any casualties.

War crimes

But the Congolese government accused the M23 of killings, rapes and looting over the past week in the eastern town of Kiwandja.

"According to multiple sources, elements of the M23 rebel group committed serious abuses over the course of the past week in Kiwandja, in North Kivu province," said government spokesman Lambert Mende in a statement.

"The toll from the violence is 10 homes and 15 businesses looted, 13 youths killed, seven women raped and 13 people wounded," he added, saying the acts constituted "war crimes and crimes against humanity".

The UN and various human rights groups have accused the M23 of atrocities including rape and murder in the past. The Congolese army has also been hit by accusations of rapes and killings.

The UN has begun deploying its first-ever offensive force to the eastern DR Congo to fight the M23 and other armed groups. About two-thirds of the new 3 000-troop force is in place, and the UN said last week it was ready to send them into battle.

The M23 occupied Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, for 10 days in November before withdrawing from the city under international pressure.



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