Clashes erupted again early yesterday between army soldiers and M23 rebels in the volatile eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where fighting has been flaring all week.
The clashes in the Nord Kivu region, which a rebel spokesman said involved army helicopters and tanks, erupted hours after the UN put its peacekeepers in the region on high alert.
The peacekeepers deployed rapid reaction units to key areas around the provincial capital, Goma, and the city’s airport, after day-long battles between the M23 and the army on Thursday reportedly left a large number of casualties.
UN attack helicopters were also on standby, according to UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.
The two sides blamed each other for the new outbreak of violence.
“Early this morning they attacked,” army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Olivier Hamuli said.
A spokesman for the rebels, Colonel Vianney Kazarama, countered that the army “attacked us with helicopters and tanks.”
Government troops held off an M23 attack on Thursday at Kibumba, about 25km northeast of Goma, officials said.
An M23 spokesman denied government claims that more than 110 rebels were killed in the battle.
The fighting was the most serious in the rebellion since July, when UN attack helicopters were last put into action against M23.
The M23 group broke away from the national army in April and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a recent report that the rebels now pose a long-term threat to the government.
“Reprisal attacks on civilians are intensifying, fueling cycles of hatred and violence among different communities,” Ban warned in the report.
UN experts have said Rwanda and Uganda back the rebels, bringing strong denials from the neighboring governments.