Fighting between government forces and M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo has entered its fifth day, with the sound of heavy weapons ringing out just 11km from the city of Goma.
The fighting in Goma, North Kivu province’s largest city, has drawn UN troops from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania who are now fighting alongside the DRC army.
The 3,000-strong intervention brigade, set up by the UN Security Council in March, is entrusted with neutralising armed groups and militias in the DRC’s volatile east who are threatening civilians.
Three UN peacekeepers were wounded on Saturday in the fighting, though no injuries were immediately reported by the UN peacekeeping mission.
|Conflicting reports on DRC death toll|
A UN official said that two M23 “colonels” had been killed since Wednesday, while the DRC military had not lost any senior officers.
Dr Isaac Warwanamiza, a doctor near the front line, said he had seen eight bodies since fighting broke out.
“The bodies that I saw were killed by bullets. Others had been hacked to death by machetes. Some were wearing
government uniforms. Some were wearing M23 uniforms. And some had no uniforms at all,” he said, speaking by telephone in French.
The fighting has drawn condemnation from the US, which said it was alarmed by the escalating violence, and again called on neighbouring Rwanda to stop supporting the rebels.
The State Department also expressed concern over reports by the UN of shelling by the M23 into Rwanda territory.
“We urgently call on [the] DRC and Rwandan governments to exercise restraint to prevent military escalation of the conflict or any action that puts civilians at risk,” Marie Harf, the department’s spokesman, said in a statement.
“We are deeply concerned about evidence of increasing ethnic tensions in Goma and call on all parties to avoid any actions that could exacerbate such tensions.”
The spokeswoman praised UN efforts to protect civilians, after the world body announced it had opened an investigation into accusations by residents that peacekeepers killed two people who tried to storm its Goma base during a protest.
Harf said the US was ready to consider further targeted sanctions against M23 rebel leaders and other armed groups. Some M23 leaders are already subject to Security Council sanctions.
The US urged the UN mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, to investigate charges of cross-border shelling. Rwanda said five mortar bombs had fallen on Rwandan villages on Friday, following a rocket the previous day, and blamed DRC’s army.
Rwanda twice invaded its larger neighbour in the 1990s and sponsored rebels trying to topple the Kinshasa government.
Millions have died since then in DRC’s eastern border area, a patchwork of rebel and militia fiefdoms in an area rich in tin as well as tungsten and coltan ores.
A UN report in June said the M23 recruited fighters in Rwanda with the aid of sympathetic Rwandan army officers, while elements of the DRC army have cooperated with the Rwandan Hutu rebel group FDLR, which Rwanda denies.
Correction, August 28, 2013.
An earlier version of this story included different casualty figures from Dr. Isaac Warwanamiza. The interview with Dr. Warwanamiza was conducted by the Associated Press news agency. AP has since issued the following corrective on that interview and this story has been revised accordingly: In a story Aug. 26 about fighting in eastern Congo, The Associated Press erroneously reported that Dr. Isaac Warwanamiza, speaking in Swahili through an interpreter, said he had seen 82 bodies. In a subsequent interview in French, Warwanamiza said that he had seen only eight bodies and that colleagues at the front had told him about the other fatalities.