Reports of 82 killed as soldiers and rebels clash in Congo
Doctor near frontline reports fatalities as government forces battle M23 rebels
A Congolese government military tank patrols in Kanyarucinya village in the outskirts of Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in recent days. Photograph: Kenny Katombe/Reuters
Soldiers and rebel forces suffered heavy casualties as they fought for a fifth day near the city of Goma, a doctor near the frontline has said.
Dr Isaac Warwanamiza said he had seen 82 dead since early yesterday, including 23 government soldiers, the highest death toll reported since hostilities broke out last week in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Medical services were struggling to cope with the scale of the casualties among government troops and the M23 fighters who launched their rebellion last year, Mr Warwanamiza said.
“I’m overwhelmed by what I’ve seen: bodies blown apart, arms and feet here and there,” he said, speaking by phone from a hospital north of Goma.
Three United Nations peacekeepers were wounded on Saturday in the fighting, and a UN official said two M23 “colonels” had been killed since Wednesday.
The frontline is only nine miles north of Goma. M23 rebels briefly overtook the city late last year, and Congolese and UN troops have been fighting to dislodge rebels from heights overlooking the city since Wednesday.
Observers estimate that Congolese forces have advanced less than a mile since Wednesday and have yet to achieve their immediate objective — cutting off M23 from a border crossing where the rebel group is believed to get supplies from neighbouring Rwanda.
An army chaplain at the military hospital in Goma confirmed that Congolese troops had suffered heavy casualties yesterday.
Lea Masika said another 59 wounded had been brought into the hospital, bringing the total of wounded there to 720. The bodies of three Congolese officers had been buried, he said.
The M23 is made up of hundreds of Congolese soldiers mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group who deserted the national army last year after accusing the government of failing to honour the terms of a deal signed in March 2009.
Many of the movement’s commanders are veterans of previous rebellions backed by Rwanda, which vigorously denies allegations that it has been supporting and reinforcing M23.
The rebels briefly seized Goma, a city of nearly one million people, last November, before withdrawing under international pressure and in return for a promise of peace talks with the government.
The talks in neighbouring Uganda have frequently stalled and appear to have made little progress since March.
The renewed fighting erupted on Wednesday, breaking a three-week lull in the region. On Thursday, the new UN intervention brigade that was created in March with a strong mandate to protect civilians fired for the first time on rebel positions.
“We are using artillery, indirect fire with mortars and our aviation, and at the moment we have troops in the front line alongside [the government forces],” General Dos Santos Cruz, the UN force commander in DRC, said.
In Washington, the state department condemned the actions of the M23, voicing concern over “credible UN reports that the M23 has fired into Rwandan territory”.
In a statement yesterday, it called on the rebel group immediately to cease hostilities, disarm and disband.