Democratic Republic of Congo’s army fired mortars and used helicopter gunships against rebel targets near the eastern city of Goma for a second day, spokesmen for the rebels and the United Nations said.
Fighting began yesterday about 7 kilometers (4.4 miles) outside Goma amid stalled peace talks between the government and the M23 rebel group in Kampala, the capital of neighboring Uganda. The negotiations started after M23 rebels seized the trading city in November before withdrawing 11 days later under pressure from the international community.
About 15 fighters for M23 were killed yesterday as well as four government soldiers, Congolese Minister of Media Lambert Mende said in an e-mailed statement today. Rebel spokesman Colonel Vianney Kazarama didn’t answer his mobile phone when Bloomberg News called for his account of the death toll.
“M23 and those who support them in the region deliberately perpetrated this attack to slow the advent of peace in the region,” Mende said.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is scheduled to arrive in Congo tomorrow and he will travel to neighboring Rwanda and Uganda this week to discuss the conflict in the region, according to an e-mailed statement from the UN.
Countries “need to comply with their commitments to bring peace to this troubled region so in turn we can bring the benefits of development to war-weary people,” Ban said today on a visit to Mozambique, according to the statement. Last year, Congo and UN experts accused Rwanda and Uganda of supporting the M23, which both countries denied.
The UN is deploying a new brigade of troops with a strengthened mandate to attack armed groups in eastern Congo, which has suffered nearly two decades of conflict. The arrival of the UN brigade, which will work support to a UN peacekeeping force, has increased tension in the region, Congolese army spokesman Colonel Olivier Hamuli said yesterday.
The M23, which is led by former rebels who mutinied from the army last year, remains “firmly attached” to the peace process, spokesman Amani Kabasha said in an e-mailed statement today. “It remains the only way to a lasting solution to the crisis in our country,” Kabasha said.
The Congolese army has deployed helicopters, “heavy caliber weapons, mortars and rocket launchers,” the UN mission in Congo said yesterday.
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