By Kenny Katombe
GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Congo's M23 rebels clashed with government troops for the first time in nearly two months on Friday, and neighboring Rwanda said Congolese army shells had landed on its territory.
The clash came days after peace talks broke down in the Ugandan capital Kampala.
General Sultani Makenga, M23's military commander, said the rebels came under attack at 4 a.m. local time (0200 GMT) on Friday at Kanyamohoro, around 15 km (10 miles) north of Goma, the largest city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
"We are going to defend our positions," Makenga told Reuters by telephone.
Congolese army General Lucien Bahuma said M23 fighters had attacked first and fighting was continuing.
The Rwandan army said via Twitter the Congolese army had fired three shells and small arms into Rubavu district, just over the border from Goma and close to the Rwandan city of Gisenyi.
In late August, Rwanda accused Congolese troops of shelling its territory and the tensions between the two neighbors raised fears of a regional conflict.
A Reuters reporter in Goma said fighting was intense and continuous on Friday morning as Congolese army troops bombarded rebel positions with heavy artillery.
South African and Tanzanian troops, part of a new U.N. Intervention Brigade with a tough mandate to crush armed groups, were present near the front line but did not join the combat.
The United Nations mission in Congo said it was reviewing the situation on the ground before deciding whether to help the Congolese army in its operations against the rebels.
After the breakdown of the Kampala talks this week, the Congolese government said it had rejected the demands of the rebel movement for an amnesty for its leaders and its reintegration into the army.
M23 says it has no desire to rejoin the Congolese forces but is seeking an amnesty for its leadership.
In an address to congress on Wednesday, Congolese President Joseph Kabila threatened military force.
"The government will not continue to expose the lives of our compatriots to blind bombings and abuses of all kinds," he said. "(M23) is caught between the force of the army and a narrow political escape route."
It is the second time in three months that peace talks have faltered and combat has broken out.
In late August, government troops with the support of the U.N. Intervention Brigade forced M23 from positions just north of Goma.
M23 began as a mutiny by Congolese soldiers in early 2012. The rebels demand that the government fully implement the terms of a 2009 peace deal signed after a previous rebellion which was backed by Rwanda.
U.N. investigators have accused Rwanda of supporting M23, a charge that Kigali strenuously denies.
(Additional reporting by Pete Jones in Kinshasa; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Andrew Roche)
- Politics & Government
- Unrest, Conflicts & War
- Democratic Republic of Congo