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Accra/Johannesburg - Heavy fighting took place on Monday in Goma, near the Democratic Republic of Congo’s border with Rwanda, according to witness and media reports.
“We hear heavy artillery and grenade explosions in the city,” said Aimee Manimani of the international organisation World Vision.
“The intensity of the fighting has increased again,” she said. The organisation later evacuated its staff from the town.
According to the Kinshasa-based Radio Okapi, gunshots were also heard near the airport of Goma.
The fighting between the M23 rebel movement and the Congolese army restarted after the rebels demanded direct talks and a ceasefire with the government.
The rebels in a statement called for the demilitarisation of Goma and its airport, and asked that negotiations include the Congolese political opposition and civil society.
Fighting between Congolese rebels and UN-backed government troops broke out on Thursday and escalated over the weekend, with M23 rebels reaching within five kilometres of Goma.
“The situation in Goma is extremely tense,” UN peacekeeping operations spokesperson Kieran Dwyer said on Sunday. “There is a real threat that the city could fall into the M23's hands and/or be seriously destabilised as a result of the fighting.”
The M23 was founded this year by former rebels who had been integrated into the army in 2009 and now claim the government has failed to uphold its side of the deal.
In a television statement posted online on Monday, government spokesperson Lambert Mende said the government's security council would immediately send representatives to North Kivu to “evaluate the consequences caused by the latest wave of criminal agitation carried out in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo by the Rwandese army”.
Rwanda has been repeatedly accused by the UN and Kinshasa of backing the M23 movement, which is largely comprised of ethnic Tutsis, like the Rwandan government.
Radio Okapi said that there was a cross-border fire exchange on Monday between Congolese and Rwandese soldiers.
Belgium also said it was deeply concerned about the unrest. Both the DRC and Rwanda used to be Belgian colonies, and Brussels called for the Rwandan authorities to use their influence to put an end to the conflict, which if it were to spread could destabilise the entire region. - Sapa-dpa