After a three-week lull, heavy fighting has resumed outside Goma in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. M23 rebels and the DRC army blame each other for renewing hostilities. The battle began Wednesday night and continued into Thursday.
These are the first major hostilities between the government army and M23 since the army bombed the rebels’ headquarters last month. Between July 15 and 19, the army succeeded in driving the rebels back four or five kilometers from Goma - a key city on the border with Rwanda. Many civilians in Goma reacted angrily when this apparently successful offensive was called off and a fragile truce was reinstated.
An army spokesman, Colonel Olivier Hamuli, said the rebels started the fighting Wednesday evening and attacked again early Thursday morning, but without success.
He said the army had the upper hand and was fighting with artillery and small arms but has not deployed helicopters.
He denied reports from the M23 that bombs are landing in civilian-occupied areas at Kayanja, in the rebel-held zone.
Hamuli said that there were no civilians in the zone, just soldiers, so there wouldn’t be any collateral damage.
An M23 spokesman, Kabasha Amani, accused the government of provoking the hostilities before Wednesday evening.
He said rebels saw the government was massing troops near M23 positions and making small incursions even before fighting intensified Wednesday.
A civilian living near the combat zone, Dr. Isaac Warwanamiza, said the army appeared to be making some progress.
He said the army has advanced toward the M23 positions and the front line has moved as far as the Kibati mosque, nearly a kilometer north of where it was earlier on Wednesday.
Rebel spokesman Kabasha conceded government forces have been moving forward.
He said he thought the army would continue to bombard the rebels and then advance through Thursday, but he vowed M23's fighters would hold their ground.
Kabasha called on DRC President Joseph Kabila to return to peace talks at Kampala, which have proceeded in fits and starts since last December.
Congolese media report that the new head of the UN mission in Congo has said he wants the mission to be closer to local people in areas plagued by armed groups.
That could mean the mission will give more direct backing to the government against the M23, who appear to have little popular support.