The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) Army clashed with fighters from the M23 rebel group close to the eastern city of Goma on Sunday, in what appeared to be the most serious combat for several weeks.
In a statement, M23 said the fighting started at 2pm when the Congolese army attacked its positions in the town of Mutaho, about 7km from Goma, a city of 1 million.
The rebel group, which sparked international outcry when it seized Goma in November last year, said its troops were responding firmly.
“Kinshasa’s army has just launched a large-scale attack on M23’s positions at Mutaho,” M23 spokesman Vianney Kazarama told reporters.
DRC Army spokesman Colonel Olivier Hamuli said the rebels had attacked government forces.
“The initiative for the fighting came from M23. It was them who attacked us at Mutaho,” he said by telephone from Goma.
The M23 has accused the army and pro-government militia of trying to goad its troops into combat for several weeks.
The fighting comes as the deployment is under way of a new 3,000-strong UN Intervention Brigade with a tough mandate to take the fight to rebel groups in the DRC.
The force — to be made up of troops from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi — has begun patrolling and is approaching full strength.
UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous told reporters on Sunday that the 17,000-strong UN force in the DRC would begin using unarmed drones on a trial basis to monitor the region.
Peace talks between Kinshasa and M23 in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, have stalled.
About 66,000 Congolese have fled into Uganda since the Ugandan rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and elements of the Somalian al-Shabaab movement struck the town of Kamangu on Thursday last week.
On Sunday, officials said ADF and Shabaab fighters had captured the town of Kikingi, close to the Ugandan border, when police fled after a short firefight.
“They are looting and robbing, as they did at Kamango,” local administrator Amisi Kalonda said. “The army is stationed not far from there and is going to dislodge them.”