Rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have taken a major border post after clashes with government troops that killed a UN soldier from India, the United Nations has said.
The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) said the Indian peacekeeper, whose identity was not given, was killed by shrapnel on Friday as the M23 fighters took the town of Bunagana on the border with Uganda.
“It wasn’t a direct hit. He died from his wounds,” Madnodje Mounoubai, MONUSCO’s spokesman, told the AFP news agency.
The rebels, calling themselves M23 and holed up in North-Kivu province, had been integrated into the Congolese army but defected earlier this year, citing poor conditions.
Reports also said hundreds of Congolese had fled clashes into Uganda.
Congolese forces on Thursday launched an offensive to rout the rebels near the Virunga National Park, home to one of the biggest populations of mountain gorillas.
But the M23, led by General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, repulsed loyalist forces and took Bunagana around 0400 GMT, M23 Lieutenant-Colonel Vianney Kazarama told AFP.
“The mutineers [rebels] took control of the entire town. The entire population and the [Congolese] troops are in Uganda,” a police source in the area told AFP separately.
A Bunagana resident said: “It’s over, the place has been occupied by the rebels. We’re all crammed in on the Ugandan side.”
The spokesman for the rebels said Bunagana was being evacuated. “M23 police will stay there,” he added.
Bunagana is about 10km from the positions of the rebels who have gathered in the hills in the southeast of Virunga since May.
The park borders Uganda and Rwanda about 50km north of North-Kivu’s main town of Goma.
The latest development came after renewed clashes in the two-month-old conflict between government troops and rebel soldiers in the jungles in the east of the vast central African country.
Eastern DR Congo remains insecure and is home to Rwandan Hutu refugees who sought sanctuary in the volatile east after perpetrating massacres in the 1994 genocide.