Congolese army clashes with M23 rebels leave 19 dead

Violence has erupted once again between M23  (March 23 movement) rebel forces and the Congolese army. Their two most recent clashes have left 19 people dead and 27 injured, according to a government spokesman.

The battle on Monday occurred in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in North Kivu province, which is located 12 kilometers (about seven miles) north of the mineral-trading hub and the region’s capital, Goma. This happened a day ago,  around the town of Kabati, 7 miles north of Goma. In this clash, four soldiers died and six others were injured.

In Tuesday’s clash, according to Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende during a press conference about the incident, fifteen rebels were killed and twenty-one were injured.

“Heavy weaponry and several cases of ammunition from the exterior have been recovered in two enemy positions, which have fallen under the control of the Congolese army,” Mende stated.

M23 military spokesman Vianney Kazarama questions the validity of Mende’s  figures. He claimed that only two rebels and two soldiers were injured in the altercations.

Multiple fronts opened elsewhere in the area on Tuesday.

Last November, the rebels briefly captured Goma, but after international pressure they withdrew from the city. Though peace talks to end the conflict followed the withdrawal, the negotiations have since stalled.

Originally, the M23 rebels had been soldiers in the Congolese army. They first managed to take over Goma on November 20, 2012, when they fought against a force of UN peacekeepers. The peacekeeping forces eventually gave up the battle for the frontier city of one million people to the rebels.

On December 1, under a ceasefire accord, M23 fighters withdrew from the city.

In April 2012, protesing against alleged mistreatment in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), the M23 rebels defected from the Congolese Army.

Four years ago in 2009 was when the M23 rebels first were integrated  into the Congolese army. This occurred as a result of a peace deal signed that year.

Each of the two sides, the Congolese government and the rebels,  accuse the other of being the first to attack.

According to rebel leader Bertrand Bisimwa,  M23 rebels were being attacked relentlessly by government forces. Because of this attack, after the course of several hours, the rebels decided to launch a full offensive.

Bisimwa warned that his rebels may decide to target Goma, again,  if government forces don’t stop their assault.

“We know the Congolese army has no capacity to stop us, but we also know that the only way to peace is not fighting, we still want to negotiate but they keep attacking us,” said Mr. Bisimwa. He spoke from the Congolese city of Bunagana, where he has set up the headquarters of the M23.

Nearly 3 million people have fled their homes in the eastern Congo since early May 2012. Two-and-a-half million of these have resettled in Congo.

Neighboring Rwanda and Uganda is where more than 460,000 have crossed the border in an attempt to escape the hostilities.

The fierce war in the east of the country that has dragged on since 1998 and has left over 5.5 million people dead is just one of the litany of problems the Congo has faced. Other issues that the country’s population must deal  with are grinding poverty and a crumbling infrastructure.

In the eastern part of the Congo, the U.N. is planning to send an extra 3,000-strong brigade. Its purpose will be dual: to take on Bisimwa’s rebels and also to boost its overall peacekeeping mission in the troubled region.

According to witnesses,  U.N. peacekeepers deployed tanks near Goma’s airport to protect the city from a possible rebel advance. Also, during Monday’s clashes Congolese troops used attack helicopters to push the rebels from at least two hills near the town of Mutaho.

“A campaign has started to rid North Kivu of M23 menace,” said a Congolese government official by phone from Kinshasa. There had been an uneasy six month period of peace between the Congolese army forces and the M23 rebels that had lasted up until Monday.

Lambert Mende, Congo’s information minister, accused the rebels of choosing the path of war by abandoning peace talks in Kampala.

“We can’t do much with the negotiations now. M23 chose to withdraw its delegation abruptly from Kampala” according to Mende.

Bisimwa declared that his M23 rebels only abandoned the talks after the refusal of Kinsasha government to sign a cease-fire agreement.

With the breaking of the six month hiatus in fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 rebels, there is a fear that the renewed hostilities might once again erupt into a full-scale civil war.

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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