First SA wounded as DRC ops hot up

2013-08-26 17:10

Goma - Congolese troops backed by United Nations soldiers suffered heavy casualties over the weekend, a doctor near the front line said, as they fought to push back rebels who remained entrenched Monday just north of the provincial capital of Goma.

Dr Isaac Warwanamiza told The Associated Press he had seen 82 bodies since early Sunday, 23 of whom he claimed were government soldiers, the highest death toll reported since hostilities broke out last week.

Medical services were struggling to cope with the scale of the casualties among government troops and the M23 fighters who launched their rebellion last year and briefly overtook Goma in November, Warwanamiza said.

"I'm overwhelmed by what I've seen: bodies blown apart, arms and feet here and there," he said, speaking by phone from a hospital north of Goma.

Eight of the dead had no uniforms, 23 were government troops and the rest were M23 rebels, the doctor added.

The total of wounded Congolese troops at the military hospital is 720, according to army chaplain Lea Masika.

The front line of fighting is only 15km north of Goma, a key center in eastern Congo that borders Rwanda. The M23 rebels briefly held the strategic city of 1 million in November last year and then retreated a few miles away. Congolese and UN troops have been battling to dislodge rebels from heights overlooking the city since Wednesday.

Observers estimate that Congolese forces have advanced less than 2km since Wednesday and have yet to achieve their immediate objective - cutting off M23 from a border crossing where the rebel group is believed to get supplies from neighboring Rwanda.

The Congolese are fighting with the help of a new United Nations intervention brigade, which was created after the M23 rebels invaded and briefly held the city of Goma last year.

In a humiliating blow to both Congo and the international community, the rebels marched directly past UN peacekeepers stationed at the gates of this city. The peacekeepers could not stop them, because their mandate at the time was limited to protecting civilians.

Two South Africans and a Tanzanian

The recent fighting is the first time that the new UN intervention force has fought against the M23 rebels.

On Monday, the head of the United Nations mission in Congo, Martin Kobler, visited two hospitals in the country's east where he paid his respects to wounded government and UN soldiers, hailing them as "heroes fighting to restore peace," a UN-backed radio station reported.

Radio Okapi identified the wounded peacekeepers as two South Africans and a Tanzanian.

The most recent fighting broke out Wednesday after weeks of relative calm. UN troops along with Congolese troops shelled rebel positions on Thursday, marking the first time the UN brigade had done so since it was created in March.

The M23 has been pounding Goma from their positions just to the north of the strategic city, killing civilians. By Saturday, scores of angry residents took to the streets in protest, claiming that the UN had not done enough to protect them. A UN car was set on fire, and in the melee two protesters were killed. The population claims the UN opened fire on the mob, but the President of Uruguay Jose Mujica said in a statement over the weekend that Uruguayan peacekeepers had only fired rubber bullets to control the crowd.

Mujica said that it was Congolese police who had used live ammunition.

On Monday, the Congolese government called for an investigation into the deaths of the civilians. Minister of the Interior Richard Muyej told The Associated Press: "We are absolutely in agreement that a joint commission needs to be created [to investigate what happened.]"

The 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 honor the terms of a deal signed in March 2009. Many of the movement's commanders are veterans of previous rebellions backed by Rwanda, which vigorously denies allegations that it has been supporting and reinforcing the M23.

Negotiations between the rebels and the Congolese government started in March in neighboring Uganda but the talks have frequently stalled and appear to have made little progress.

In Washington, the United States State Department condemned the actions of the M23, calling on the rebel group to immediately cease hostilities, disarm and disband. The US also suggested that Rwanda is assisting the rebels.

"We urgently call on [Congolese] and Rwandan governments to exercise restraint to prevent military escalation of the conflict or any action that puts civilians at risk," the statement said. "We reiterate our call for Rwanda to cease any and all support to the M23."

  • Go-Getter G Munyai - 2013-08-26 17:21

    Is there any one who can help to stop Zuma before he kills our beloved troops?

      Teevee Gupta - 2013-08-26 20:13

      We must protect the presidents interests in the DRC.

  • Compos Mentis - 2013-08-26 17:29

    Impossible.... our Government said we were not involved..... a Case of Deja-Bu.... (I have heard this BS before).

      En Gineer - 2013-08-26 17:33

      Defence spokesman said we weren't involved up until late Sunday when he stated we fired back on M23 positions.

      Victor van der Walt - 2013-08-26 18:47

      They bunch of f.c.en liars cant believe a word that the government says.

      Shimane Abram - 2013-08-26 22:03

      i c d involvement guys,is our government paying our soldires enough.i think our government must b fare thy r not dieing 4 sa bt 4 kabila

  • En Gineer - 2013-08-26 17:35

    SA soldiers on offensive South African soldiers engaged in running battles with M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo overran a rebel machine gun post at the weekend, halting the rebels' advance. According to Pikkie Greeff, national secretary of the SA Defence Union, the DRC troops were advancing on the M23 positions but came under heavy fire from a machine gun. "There are only two ways you can take out a machine gun post - either by sniper or with a stick of men sneaking up to the position and taking it out," said Greeff. "We do not know what they did but the South African soldiers took out the machine gun post." South African soldiers are part of the UN's Monusco brigade, which has been assigned to take on the the M23 rebels. SANDF troops, who have been subjected to mortar fire since Friday, are holding positions around Goma. "The rebels have been raining mortars on refugee camps around Goma and the UN forces have returned fire," he said. Siphiwe Dlamini, spokesman for the Department of Defence, said the South African "force has been retaliating since the shelling of their positions began".

      Daniel Waise - 2013-08-29 10:37

      South African soldiers are not provided with appropriate weapons. I don't think there is political will to fight. The same scenario as CAR mission. Why are they engaging in the fight if they don't want to?

  • Nomcebo Ngidi - 2013-08-26 17:47

    SA troops are on a UN mission must fight hard they are equiped now

  • Altus Kirsten - 2013-08-26 17:53

    More to follow.

      Victor van der Walt - 2013-08-26 18:48

      More lies yes.

  • Tshepo Seepe Semenya - 2013-08-26 17:54

    Why are South African soldiers all over the continental? It was CAR, now is Congo, and where else ?

      William Rametsi - 2013-08-26 18:24

      They will be in Zimbabwe very soon .

      Solethu Solethu Matrose - 2013-08-26 18:46

      Burundi south suda and sudan. coast of mozambique.lestho border.krugger national park

      Teevee Gupta - 2013-08-26 20:13

      Cape Town.

  • Philip Condor - 2013-08-26 18:00

    ZUMA... Send more troops!!!

  • Lehlohonolo Moloi - 2013-08-26 18:38

    Send more soldiers Zuma. Send them all. These terrorists, rapists, must be dealt with. It stops here.

      Sandile E Mchunu - 2013-08-26 18:50

      We wil stand the ground tll the end no turning bck is tym we bring peace to ths country after thy been suffering for the past 20yrz.we a here to make change no matter what.NO TURNING BACK.

      Sandile E Mchunu - 2013-08-26 18:50

      We wil stand the ground tll the end no turning bck is tym we bring peace to ths country after thy been suffering for the past 20yrz.we a here to make change no matter what.NO TURNING BACK.

  • Lovemaster Armstrong - 2013-08-26 18:49

    So they lost against the "Boys"(SELEKA REBELS ) now they decide to challenge "Men"(Dangerous M23 Rebels ) SA send more body bags please.

      Vuyane Richard Mnune - 2013-08-27 07:46

      U r disgusting boet!!!m one of those soldiers,that u towkin crap about!!!

      Roelf Strydom - 2013-08-27 08:20

      Vuyane, ignore the fool! We are proud of our para brothers! Ex Alto Vincimus!

  • Madumetja April - 2013-08-26 19:16

    im proud of sandf troops in goma and i pray that okes on news24 to start behaving like real south africans. where is our national pride gone?

  • Silas Mapuroma - 2013-08-26 20:21

    South Africa is waisting time and money to help Congo,ZAire is leading by Coupe Dictator's son, and South Africa's support is either personal than our Country's interest.How the Congelese Government fail to meet the demands of Oppositions not Rebels, How do you negotiate with rebels.Unless the ruling Party is lobying the support that if maybe they loose elections next , then they will try trix by getting support from Congelese

  • Washie Majola - 2013-08-26 20:23

    Deploy S.A.S intel guys behind M23 lines and send co-ordinates to waterkloof and have M23 in smoke in flush its time to kick butt now! Flank them ,cut them apart. Advance S.N.D.F advance!!! I like u guys.

  • Richard Scully - 2013-08-26 20:53

    I thought SA troops were not involved in the fighting....according to fat face from the SANDF

  • Jafta Sithole - 2013-08-26 21:03

    Give Mugabe the gloves.

  • thembuluwo.matambele - 2013-08-26 21:41

    I thought we were told that SA soldiers were not getting involve in this fight with dangerous M23 rebels....some people they just do as they like...

  • Bheki Maselela - 2013-08-27 04:31

    It's really on now.

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