GOMA — There is renewed fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo between the M23 rebels and the government army. It's the first major clashes between the two sides since the rebels withdrew from the city of Goma last year. .
Both sides are blaming each other for starting the fighting early on Monday. The clashes, 12 kilometers north of Goma, have been intense, with aircraft bombarding the M23 who, according to civilians, have been pushed back.
A steady stream of civilians began heading south towards Goma during the morning. Hardly any soldiers could be seen among them, and civilians told VOA the army has been advancing.
Among the civilians evacuating the war zone was Mariana Bigaruka, a high school student.
"I went to school at 6 a.m., I could hear gunfire and could see aircraft flying over firing missiles," said Bigaruka.
She said civilians initially took refuge at a base of the U.N. peacekeeping mission MONUSCO, but the peacekeepers advised civilians to move further towards Goma.
The fighting went on until late afternoon, she said.
"The FARDC or government army has been advancing, pushing back the M23. This is very encouraging," she said.
The last round of heavy fighting between the government forces and the rebels, in November, started with a rebel offensive, which was pushed back by the army with support from MONUSCO aircraft.
But in the five days of fighting that followed, the rebels broke through several lines of defense and the army retreated from Goma.
Peace talks between the government and the rebels have broken down since the announcement in March that the U.N. would deploy an intervention brigade in the region. The force, made up of regional soldiers, is authorized to attack eastern Congo's many armed groups.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is visiting the Great Lakes region this week, including a stop in Congo's capital Kinshasa on Wednesday.