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Armed Conflict

UN reports clashes at DRC-Rwanda border city Goma

Soldiers and rebels from the M23 breakaway group have been fighting for control of Goma airport, close to the Rwandan border. The domestic clashes have prompted international accusations, from the DRC and Rwanda alike.

UN peacekeeping spokesman Kieran Dwyer issued a statement on Monday afternoon reporting "renewed clashes" near Goma airport - situated very close to the Democratic Republic of Congo's border with Rwanda.

"The situation in Goma remains extremely tense," the UN official said. "The violence in and around Goma is hampering efforts to provide humanitarian relief and vulnerable populations who are already displaced are being forced to flee again."

A recent UN report said that the M23 rebels, a group of former soldiers who were integrated into the army in 2009 but left this year saying the government had not kept promises to them, were supported by neighboring Rwanda and Uganda - a charge contested by both countries.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Lasdous said earlier on Monday that he could not confirm whether the most recent rebel offensive had foreign backing, but said the "attacking forces are well-equipped and very well-supplied."

Reciprocal accusations

Local media reported on Monday that M23 had called for peace talks with the DRC, an offer that the government dismissed.

"M23 is defined by the government as a fiction created by Rwanda to hide their criminal activites against the DRC," spokesman Lambert Mende said in a televised statement later posted online. "It is an ultimatum from a fictitious group that has no real value to us."

The DRC has similarly said some 4,000 Rwandan troops had crossed the border to help M23, a charge the country disputes. A source at the Rwandan presidency, speaking to news agency Reuters on condition of anonymity, on Monday said that the Congolese army was "bombing our territory, specifically the Gisenyi area."

On Sunday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke with Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni, who had been leading mediation efforts between M23 and the DRC. UN spokesman Dwyer said that Museveni "indicated that he had spoken to the M23 rebels and called for calm" during his talks with Ban.

The government of Belgium, the former colonial power in both the DRC and Rwanda, issued a statement on Monday asking authorities to use their influence to initiate a cease-fire.

msh/hc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)