Thousands flee as Congo army, rebels battle

Goma - Congolese rebels and government
forces traded heavy weapons fire around two
eastern villages on Tuesday, forcing thousands
of civilians to flee.
The residents fled towards the provincial capital
days ahead of a regional summit due to tackle
the rebellion.
The clashes took place around Kibumba and
Rugari and UN helicopter gunships were seen
headed towards the frontline, but Reuters
reporters said there was no sign of an imminent
move on Goma, the capital of North Kivu
province, some 25 km to the south.
A rebellion launched in April has already forced
some 260,000 people to flee their homes.
UN experts have said neighbouring Rwanda is
backing the rebels, prompting the U.S., a key
ally of Kigali’s, to cut some military aid.
Rwanda denies it is supporting the rebels.
“We were in our house and we heard gunfire and
then saw the soldiers running. When we saw the
soldiers running, we also fled as we were
scared,”Isidore Kambale, a resident of Rugari,
told Reuters as he took to the the main road
A Reuters reporter on the road between Goma
and Kibumba said he heard heavy weapons fire
in the early afternoon and saw thousands of
people, mostly women laden with bags on their
heads, heading towards the provincial capital.
Three UN gunships flew earlier in the direction of
the fighting but it was not clear if they took part
in the clashes.
UN peacekeepers have previously fired on rebel
positions in support of government troops.
They have also reinforced positions around
Goma in a bid to make sure the rebels, known as
the M23, cannot threaten the town.
Col.Vianney Kazarama, a spokesman for the
M23, blamed the army for the firing saying:
“From our side, we’re calm. Nothing to report.”
Congo’s army was not immediately available for
The new rebellion has led to an escalation in
tensions between Congo and Rwanda after three
years of generally improved relations following
years of conflict between the neighbours.
Leaders from Africa’s Great Lakes region plan to
send a “neutral force” to Congo to end cycles of
violence though no details have yet emerged on
where the troops will come from or when they
will be deployed.
Uganda, another neighbour of Congo’s, said on
Tuesday it would host a summit in early August
to discuss the crisis.
“We’ll be discussing a range of ideas aimed at
finding a solution to the crisis including a
temporary cease-fire and a stationing a
permanent international stabilisation force along
DRC’s border with Rwanda,”said Asuman
Kiyingi, Uganda’s acting foreign minister.
The M23 rebel movement is mostly made up of
fighters from a former rebellion that Rwanda is
also accused of supporting before a peace deal
was signed between Congo and Rwanda.
The rebels were earlier integrated into Congo’s
Local Congolese government officials have
accused Rwanda of invading North Kivu.
The U.S. has announced a cut in military aid to
Kigali this year as a result of the reported
support for rebels but Rwanda has said the
decision was taken on the back of incorrect
information. (Reuters/NAN)

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