United Nations helicopters fired on rebels fighting Congolese troops just outside a city of nearly 1 million people in eastern Congo on Wednesday, ratcheting up the U.N.\’s role in Congo\’s current conflict, officials said.
The fighting began just before 8am on Wednesday in the hills of the Kibati area, about 15km north of the provincial capital of Goma, according to both a government and a UN spokesman.
The rebels confirmed that they had been attacked by ground troops as well as from the air.
"There was a big offensive this morning. The government\’s army, helped by the United Nations, attacked our positions near Goma with aircrafts, with combat tanks and with infantry," said the president of the M23 rebel movement, Bertrand Bisimwa.
The U.N., which has a large peacekeeping operation in Congo, recently deployed an "Intervention Brigade" to fight rebel groups in the east and help stabilize the volatile region.
U.N. peacekeepers previously clashed with M23 on Friday, when they fired at the rebels outside Goma after rebel artillery shells killed two civilians.
The DRC\’s minister of health, Felix Kabange, visited wounded soldiers and civilians in a Goma hospital Wednesday and promised that the government will bring peace to the region.
M23 briefly took control of Goma last year and still controls parts of North Kivu province.
The group is made up of former rebels who were integrated into the Congolese army in a 2009 peace agreement, but later deserted after complaining of discrimination and poor treatment.