New Vision (Kampala)

29 December 2012

Uganda: Rebels Fire At Peacekeeper Helicopters in DR Congo - UN

Rebels opened fired on two UN helicopters in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN peacekeeping mission in the central African country said Friday.

The UN mission MONUSCO said in a statement that two choppers making a routine flight north of Goma came under fire Wednesday night as they passed above two towns controlled by the rebel M23 movement.

"MONUSCO warns M23 against these repeated attacks on its helicopters... and restates that UN forces serve exclusively peaceful purposes and any attack against them is a war crime."

UN authorities said it was the second time in a month that M23 members have targeted its helicopters, which it said are commonly used for medical evacuations.

M23 spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Vianney Kazarama denied the claims.

"We never attacked MONUSCO, we fired at helicopters from the FARDC (Congolese army), who were flying reconnaissance over M23 zones," he said.

"If MONUSCO wants to fly reconnaissance over our territory, they must do so by day and they must warn us. At night, we can't make out the UN symbol," Kazarama added.

MONUSCO said a regional operation on the border with DR Congo and Rwanda had verified the attacks. UN experts accuse Rwanda and Uganda of supporting the rebels, although both countries deny the claims.

The Congolese army has been fighting the M23 rebels since rebels broke from the main DR Congo army in April with barely 500 men.

The mutineers are demanding the application of a 2009 peace accord, intended to end conflict in the Kivu region over the past decade.

On November 20, M23 rebels captured Goma, the capital of the mineral-rich North Kivu region. They pulled out 11 days later under international pressure and on the promise of talks with Kinshasa.

The talks opened December 9 in Kampala but are on hold for the holidays.

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