New fighting has broken out near the Congolese city of Goma, after the Democratic Republic of Congo government dismissed a demand for peace talks from the rebel group M23.
According to a VOA reporter on the ground in Goma, there was heavy weapons fire Monday about three kilometers from the edge of the city and about five kilometers from the city's airport.
An M23 spokesman, Vianney Kazarama, said the rebel group controls the northeastern part of Goma, the capital of Congo's North Kivu province.
There also are reports of weapons fire along the DRC's border with Rwanda. The DRC has accused Rwanda of supporting M23, which Rwanda has repeatedly denied.
M23 fighters moved to within a few kilometers of Goma over the past few days, after pushing back government troops and U.N. peacekeepers.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the situation "extremely dangerous and worrying."
"We are obviously deeply troubled by the rapidly deteriorating security and humanitarian crisis," she said. "In the DRC there are now some 60,000 people displaced just in the past three days, 500,000 since January."
The French ambassador to the U.N., Gerard Araud, blamed M23 for starting the latest fighting. He said France will introduce a resolution condemning M23 and calling for sanctions against the rebel group's leaders.
Asked whether those leaders would include anyone from Rwanda, he said the matter would have to be handled carefully.
"The involvement of a country will obviously be part of the resolution – a delicate part of the resolution, but it will be in the resolution," he said.
The United Nations says some of the mortar fire from Monday's fighting landed near U.N. troops. It says peacekeepers will stay in the area to protect civilians, but that non-essential personnel will leave Goma.
The rebels Monday demanded that the government open peace talks within 24 hours or see a continuation of fighting around the eastern city.
The DRC government quickly rejected the demand. Government spokesman Lambert Mende said M23 is a "fiction" created by Rwanda to, in his words, hide its criminal activities in the DRC.
Most members of the M23 group are former Congolese soldiers who defected earlier this year, demanding better pay and weapons.
In its statement Monday, M23 accused the DRC of violating a 2009 agreement to integrate the rebels into the army.
Uganda also has denied allegations that it is supporting M23. The Kampala government has said that if the United Nations does not withdraw the allegations, it may remove its soldiers from international peacekeeping missions, including the one in Somalia.