The Democratic Republic of Congo’s M23 rebels clashed with government troops on Friday near the eastern city of Goma, a rebel leader said, in the first heavy fighting in the region in nearly two months.
The clash came days after peace talks broke down in the Ugandan capital Kampala, where the Congolese government said it had refused the demands of the 20-month-old rebel movement for an amnesty for its leaders and its reintegration into the army.
M23 says it has no desire to rejoin the Congolese forces.
General Sultani Makenga, M23’s military commander, said the rebels came under attack at 4 a.m. local time (0200 GMT) on Friday at Kanyamohoro, around 15 km (10 miles) north of Goma, the largest city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
“We are going to defend our positions,” Makenga told Reuters by telephone.
An army spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
The United Nations mission in Congo (MONUSCO) is reviewing the situation on the ground before deciding whether to help the army in its operations, MONUSCO spokesperson Sy Koumbo said.
A Reuters reporter in Goma said the fighting was intense and continuous on Friday morning as Congolese army troops bombarded rebel positions with heavy artillery.
South African and Tanzanian troops, part of a new U.N. Intervention Brigade with a tough mandate to crush armed groups, were present near the frontline but did not join the combat.
In an address to congress on Wednesday, Congolese President Joseph Kabila had threatened the use of military force if dialogue could not resolve the crisis.
“The government will not continue to expose the lives of our compatriots to blind bombings and abuses of all kinds,” he said. “(M23) is caught between the force of the army and a narrow political escape route.”
It is the second time in three months that peace talks have stuttered and combat has broken out between the two sides.
In late August, government troops with the support of the U.N. Intervention Brigade forced M23 from its positions just north of Goma.
M23 began as a mutiny by Congolese soldiers in early 2012. The rebels demand that the government fully implement the terms of a 2009 peace deal signed after a previous rebellion which was backed by Rwanda.
U.N. investigators have accused Rwanda of supporting M23, a charge that Kigali strenuously denies.