Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo - New clashes broke out on Thursday in a two-month-old conflict between government troops and rebel soldiers in the jungles of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, sources said.

The fighting in the resource-rich region has pitted government troops against former Congolese Tutsi rebels, who were integrated into the army but defected this year and formed a rebel movement called M23.

The rebels, holed up in Nord-Kivu province near the borders with Rwanda and Uganda, are led by Bosco Ntaganda, a warlord wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes.

Congolese government troops (FARDC), newly reinforced with commando units, launched an offensive against M23 in the hills south of the Virunga national park, the mutineers said.

“The FARDC shelled our positions. But we responded, and we have pursued them,” M23 spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Vianney Kazarama told reporters, adding that his group was based around the town of Bunagana.

They rebels say they mutinied because of poor conditions in the army.

The violence has displaced more than 200 000 people and driven 20 000 refugees into Rwanda and Uganda.

Rwanda has denied accusations it is supporting the Tutsi rebels to combat the ethnic Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.

DRC President Joseph Kabila last Friday blamed “dark national and foreign forces” for the violent unrest without naming Rwanda.

Rwanda twice sent troops into the DRC to hunt down Rwandan Hutu rebels. Kigali has also been accused of exploiting the mineral wealth in the DRC.

The group Global Witness, which tracks links between conflict and natural resources worldwide, has said Ntaganda and other senior figures had “amassed huge sums of money through the trade in conflict minerals”.

In the latest clashes, the M23 claimed to have taken Jomba and Chengerero, two towns about 10km north of their position, which are located on the road to an important border crossing with Uganda.

Non-government group in Nord-Kivu confirmed in a statement that the mutineers had taken Jomba. A police source in Bunagana told reporters that its residents had fled the town for Uganda.

An M23 spokesperson said: “Our mission is not to control communities, but the FARDC attacked us. What we want is that the government come to the negotiating table.” - Sapa-AFP