The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo warned M23 rebels against advancing on the eastern town of Goma and said it was “deeply concerned” about a new offensive by the fighters.
M23 attacked Congolese army positions yesterday at the village of Mutaho, 8 kilometers (5 miles) north of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, the mission said in an e-mailed statement today. Fighting is continuing, according to Congo’s army.
UN peacekeepers “stand ready to take any necessary measures, including the use of lethal force, in order to protect civilians,” the mission said. “Any attempt by the M23 to advance toward Goma will be considered a direct threat to civilians.”
Armed groups have thrived in eastern Congo for more than a decade, often supporting themselves by exploiting the area’s natural resources, according to the country’s Mines Ministry and the UN. The region is rich in tin, gold and coltan, an ore used in electronics. Companies including Soco International Plc (SIA), based in London, and France’s Total SA (FP) are exploring for oil in North Kivu province, where the M23 rebels are based.
More than 120 rebels died in the fighting and another dozen were captured, Congo’s Media Minister Lambert Mende said in an e-mailed statement today. A dozen Congolese soldiers were also killed by M23 artillery fire in Mutaho, he said. The UN could not confirm casualties, Madnodje Mounoubai, a spokesman for the mission, said by phone from the capital, Kinshasa.
M23 spokesman Amani Kabasha denied that many fighters have been killed. “They’re liars,” he said by phone from Bunagana town in North Kivu. “We’re still holding our positions.”
M23 seized Goma in November before withdrawing 11 days later under pressure from the international community. In May, renewed clashes left at least 15 rebel fighters and four government soldiers dead amid stalled peace talks.
Kabasha said M23 doesn’t want to take Goma and called for peace talks to resume in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. The rebels defected from the army last year, claiming that Congo’s President, Joseph Kabila, had not implemented a 2009 peace plan that brought the fighters into the army.
A draft peace agreement from earlier this year called for reconciliation talks, increased investment in eastern Congo, and the decentralization of power to the provinces. It also allowed for M23 rebels to rejoin the national army except for those subject to arrest warrants by the government. The insurgents rejected the proposals.
Separately, at least 66,000 Congolese fled to neighboring Uganda following an attack by the Allied Democratic Front, a Ugandan rebel movement, on the Congolese town of Kamango on July 11, the UN Refugee Agency said in an e-mailed statement today. Uganda’s government accuses the ADF of having links with Somalia’s al-Shabaab Islamist militia. The rebels crossed into Congo in the 1990s after defeat by the Ugandan army.
“This is an extraordinarily swift and concerning influx of refugees into an area with very limited preparedness to extend humanitarian assistance to such a large number of people,” Mohammed Adar, the agency’s representative in Uganda, said in the statement.
Refugees are being housed in sites including five primary schools, while the agency is mounting an emergency response along with the Ugandan government and other humanitarian agencies, he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Michael J. Kavanagh in Kinshasa at firstname.lastname@example.org