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UN helicopters strike Congolese rebels
« on: August 28, 2013, 18:47:45 PM »
UN helicopters strike Congolese rebels

International force ratchets up role in DRC conflict by firing on M23 rebels just outside city of Goma.

Last Modified: 28 Aug 2013 16:11

United Nations helicopters have fired on rebels fighting Congolese troops just outside the city of Goma, ratcheting up the UN's role in the Democratic Republic of Congo's current conflict, officials said.

The fighting began just before 8am on Wednesday in the hills of the Kibati area, about 15km north of the provincial capital of Goma, according to both a government and a UN spokesman.

The rebels confirmed that they had been attacked by ground troops as well as from the air.

"There was a big offensive this morning. The government's army, helped by the United Nations, attacked our positions near Goma with aircrafts, with combat tanks and with infantry," said the president of the M23 rebel movement, Bertrand Bisimwa.

Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Olivier Hamuli said the UN brigade and regular UN peacekeepers had supported government forces with heavy artillery and attack helicopters.

"Combat is ongoing and there has been an intense bombardment of Kibati," he told the Reuters news agency. "It's going well. We have not advanced much but M23 is gaining no territory."

'Support role'

The UN's intervention brigade was created as a result of intense international pressure after the rebels briefly held Goma late last year, and UN peacekeeping forces stood by because they were only authorised to protect civilians.

The UN Security Council approved the creation of the intervention brigade in March, giving the troops an expanded mandate allowing them to fight the M23 rebels.

In the weeks since the brigade has been deployed in eastern Congo, officials have given mixed messages about its role in the conflict, always stressing that the brigade was fighting "alongside" or "behind" Congolese army troops.

On Wednesday, officials reiterated that they were playing a support role.

"The main engagement is by the [Congolese] forces," said Siphiwe Dlamini, a spokesman for the South African military, which contributed South African troops to the brigade. "We are retaliating and going on the offensive."

Lieutenant Colonel Felix Basse, the military spokesman for the UN peacekeeping mission, known as MONUSCO, also said that UN forces were taking part in the fighting alongside the Congolese army on Wednesday.

"MONUSCO has enlisted all of its attack helicopters and its artillery... to push back the M23 offensive that is under way right now on the hills of Kibati," he told journalists in the capital of Kinshasa.

The M23 fighters launched their rebellion last year and peace talks with the Congolese government have repeatedly stalled.