Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo killed a United Nations peacekeeper as they fought the national army for control of a key town on the Ugandan border, a UN official said.
An Indian peacekeeper was killed by an exploding shell in the town of Bunagana during the fighting today, Madnodje Mounoubai, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo said by phone from Kinshasa, the capital.
Rebel leader Colonel Sultani Makenga said in an e-mailed statement his troops conquered Bunagana and its surroundings in the morning.
“We remind the government that our intention is not to conquer land, much less pursue war,” Makenga said. “We’re asking them not to force war as a solution to the present crisis.”
The phone of Congolese army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Sylvain Ekenge didn’t connect when called for comment by Bloomberg today.
The rebels began deserting the army in April, claiming the government had not adhered to a 2009 peace agreement and amid rumors that one of their leaders, General Bosco Ntaganda, would be arrested. Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
Neighboring Rwanda allegedly provides support and recruits for the rebels, according to the Congolese government and a June report by the UN’s Group of Experts on Congo. Rwanda has denied any involvement.
Bunagana was a base of operations for Ntaganda’s former rebel group, which was also backed by Rwanda. The group integrated into the army in 2009. The deal marked a turning point in relations between Congo and Rwanda, which fought a series of wars directly or via rebel proxies since the late 1990s.
More than 218,000 people have fled the fighting in North Kivu province since April, according to the UN. Its troops remain in Bunagana to protect civilians, Mounoubai said.
More than 600 Congolese soldiers fled into neighboring Uganda to escape the fighting, David Kazungu, the Ugandan commissioner for refugees said today by phone from the capital, Kampala.
“Even civilians crossed into the country alongside the soldiers,” he said.
The death of the Indian peacekeeper brings to 44 the members of the UN mission killed since it arrived in the country in 1999, according to its website.