DRC shelling our territory, says Rwanda

2013-08-30 09:26

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Kinshasa - Fighting from the war in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo that pits UN and Congolese forces against rebels spilled over into Rwanda on Thursday when 10 shells landed in a Rwandan border town and a nearby village, killing at least one person, authorities said.

Rwanda, which the UN accuses of backing the rebels in the neighbouring country of DRC, blamed the Congolese military for the shelling of its territory and threatened retaliation.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said a projectile fired by Congolese forces at 09:45 killed a woman and seriously injured her two-month old baby in a market in Rubavu town.

"We have remained restrained for as long as we can but this provocation can no longer be tolerated. We have the capacity to determine who fired at us and will not hesitate to defend our territory. Rwanda has a responsibility to protect its population," Mushikiwabo said. He said a second projectile landed at 11:20 in Rubavu, injuring one person, and that eight landed at nearby Busasamana village 10 minutes later.

Sheik Hassan Barame, the mayor of Rubavu, located 3km from the Congolese city of Goma, said both the mother and her baby were killed when the rocket landed in the market.

Goma, a city of one million, briefly fell to the M23 rebels last year. M23 said in a statement Thursday that the shells being fired into Rwandan territory was a deliberate attempt to draw Rwanda into the fighting. Last week Rwanda accused Congo's military of firing five shells into Rubavu from its positions.

Meanwhile, combat continued in eastern DRC on Thursday, and officials confirmed that two shells had landed in two separate neighbourhoods in the provincial capital of Goma overnight, killing one person and wounding at least eight.

Special intervention

That brings to 13 the number of people killed in Goma by shelling from rebel positions north of the city in just over a week, ever since the Congolese army backed by United Nations troops went on the offensive against the M23 rebels.

The fighting is taking place just outside the city of Goma, population one million, and although the town is heavily fortified, shells and mortars have repeatedly been fired over the city's defences, landing in neighbourhoods of tin-housed roofs.

"One of the bombs landed in the neighbourhood of Majengo and another in the neighbourhood of Mabanga-North on Avenue Kindu," said Minister of Information Lambert Mende, who was reached by telephone. "The death toll is one dead and eight injured, including four who are gravely wounded."

Paluku Kavunga, a resident of Goma, said he had seen the latest victim of the shelling: "I saw the body torn into pieces of a boy who was 16 years old and who was killed last night," he said. "This morning I heard another two detonations not far from Goma and I also saw four helicopters from the United Nations who were flying over the city of Goma."

The fighting in recent days has been among the most intense in the past year, and comes after the United Nations Security Council in March authorised the creation of a special intervention brigade which, unlike the other 17,000 peacekeepers stationed in this vast nation, have a mandate allowing them to go on the offensive against the M23 rebel group, ensconced just north of the city. The brigade was created in the wake of the criticism following the fall of Goma to the rebels last year.

The intervention brigade is made-up mostly of Tanzanian and South African peacekeepers. The governments of the two countries declined to give details about the peacekeepers' operations in DRC, but on Thursday, Pikkie Greeff, the national secretary of the South African National Defence Union, a military union which represents some of the soldiers fighting in DRC, said that South African Special Forces snipers have been "taking out" rebels manning machine gun posts, barriers and other positions.

Level of emergency

He also said the South African and Tanzanian troops are launching attacks from the air and hitting the rebels with artillery shells. As the fight intensifies "the possibilities of casualties are very high ... and we see the possibility that soldiers might die in combat," he said.

On Wednesday, the United Nations confirmed the death of a Tanzanian peacekeeper who came under fire from the M23 in the hills above Goma.

DRC, a nation the size of Western Europe, has been in a perpetual state of crisis for years. Even before the creation of the M23 in 2012, its forest-covered hills were crawling with other rebel groups, ethnic militias and renegade units of the regular army.

The latest flare-up is causing people to flee from the very refugee camps that became their temporary homes in previous conflicts.

"Things are really bad when people are being forced to run away from displacement camps," said Frances Charles, the Goma-based advocacy director for international aid group World Vision, who was reached by telephone.

 "The DRC level of emergency is so much worse than anywhere else. What we now take as 'normal' would be considered a catastrophe anywhere else. For us a good day is, for another country, the biggest catastrophe they have ever seen."

Read more on:    m23  |  drc  |  rwanda  |  central africa  |  east africa

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