M23 rebels take new town despite UN attacks

Rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have seized a new town as they close in on the key provincial capital of Goma, the United Nations said Saturday.

A UN peacekeeping spokesman said the town of Kibumba, 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of Goma, was taken by the M23 group despite strikes by UN attack helicopters helping DR Congo government forces.

The announcement of the fall of Kibumba came as the UN Security Council met at France’s demand to discuss the offensive in the mineral-rich region by M23, who UN experts have said are backed by neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon spoke with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame on Saturday to appeal for his help to halt the M23 advance, the spokesman said. Rwanda has strongly denied any involvement in the rebellion, which erupted in April.

The spokesman said that DR Congo government forces and peacekeepers from the UN mission, MONUSCO, “are attempting to hold off a possible M23 advance toward Goma at Kibati.”

Kibati is about 20 kilometers north of Goma and there are 60,000-80,000 displaced people in a camp near the town.

The United Nations and DR Congo government have activated a special security plan in Goma.

“As of right now, UN staff in Goma are gathering at security assembly points to ensure their protection,” the UN spokesman said, adding that UN forces in the city and at Goma airport are on “high alert.”

There are some 6,700 MONUSCO forces in Nord Kivu province with some 1,400 troops in Goma and the surrounding area, UN officials said.

The DR Congo government has said that 4,000 troops had crossed the border from Rwanda to help the M23. The Rwandan government has strongly denied the claim.

“We are not in a position to confirm direct Rwandan involvement in the M23 attacks,” said the UN peacekeeping spokesman. “However, we are very concerned by reports that the M23 attacking forces appear to be well-equipped and supplied.”

UN leader Ban spoke on Saturday with DR Congo’s Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda “to express his full support for the Government’s efforts to repel the M23,” said the spokesman.

Ban also spoke with Rwanda’s Kagame “to request that he use his influence on the M23 to help calm the situation and restrain the M23 from continuing their attack.”