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DRC soldiers, UN battle M23 rebels

26 August 2013, 08:01

Congo - Congolese soldiers and rebel forces suffered heavy casualties on Sunday, a doctor near the front line said, as they fought for a fifth day near the city of Goma in the country's volatile east.

Dr Isaac Warwanamisa said he had seen 82 dead since early morning, 23 of whom were government soldiers, he said, the highest death toll reported since hostilities broke out last week.

A chaplain at the military hospital in Goma, Lea Masika, said 59 wounded were brought in on Sunday, bringing the total at the hospital to 720.

The Congolese government troops are still fighting to take a hill from where M23 can target Goma, and have advanced less than 2km since fighting resumed on Wednesday after a three-week lull.

Congolese troops backed by UN forces fought the rebels for hours on Saturday. Three UN peacekeepers were wounded in the fighting. The UN mission created in March with a stronger mandate to protect civilians fired for the first time on rebel positions on Thursday.

"We are using artillery, indirect fire with mortars and our aviation, and at the moment we have troops in the front line alongside [the government forces]," the UN force commander in Congo, General Dos Santos Cruz, said.

However, there has been widespread scepticism in Congo that the intervention brigade will be a game-changing addition to the existing UN force, which stood by when M23 fighters briefly captured Goma late last year.

And on Saturday, scores of Goma residents took to the streets in anger over a series of rocket and mortar attacks that have left at least seven civilians dead in recent days.

Two other residents were killed during the demonstration, and the UN called for a joint investigation.

Congo accuses neighbouring Rwanda of helping the rebels, charges denied by Rwanda's government. M23's leaders previously headed other rebel groups in the region that were backed by Rwanda.

M23 is made up of hundreds of Congolese soldiers mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group who deserted the national army last year after accusing the government of failing to honour the terms of a deal signed in March 2009.

Peace talks in neighbouring Uganda have repeatedly stalled, and M23 has vowed to fight back against the UN intervention brigade.

The intervention brigade, made up of Tanzanian, South African and Malawian soldiers, is reinforcing 17 000 UN blue helmets already with the UN peacekeeping mission known as Monusco.

- AP


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