Three Congolese helicopters have blasted positions of the March 23 movement (M23) rebels in the city of Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“Our helicopters have just bombarded enemy positions,” an unnamed Congolese officer said on Tuesday, adding, “Until now the enemy has not yet responded,” AFP reported.
The attacks, which were the first ones since Monday, began in the morning and ended in the afternoon.
On Monday, the M23 said it was only four kilometers (2.5 miles) away from Goma, which is the capital of North Kivu province.
Hundreds of people have been forced to flee their homes since the fighting began on July 14.
On Tuesday, the Human Rights Watch said in a report that the M23 rebels “executed at least 44 people and raped at least 61 women and girls since March 2013.”
The United Nations has announced that it is ready to use “lethal force” to protect civilians in Goma if the M23 rebels advance toward the city.
The M23 rebels seized Goma on November 20, 2012 after UN peacekeepers gave up the battle for the frontier city, which is home to about one million people. The rebels withdrew from the city on December 1 under a ceasefire accord.
Several armed groups, including the M23 rebels, are active in the eastern Congo and are fighting for control of the country’s vast mineral resources, such as gold, the main tin ore cassiterite, and coltan (columbite-tantalite), which is used to make many electronic devices, including cell phones.
The M23 rebels defected from the Congolese army in April 2012 in protest over alleged mistreatment in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). They had previously been integrated into the Congolese army under a peace deal signed in 2009.
Since early May 2012, more than three million people have fled their homes in the eastern Congo. About 2.5 million have resettled in Congo, but some 500,000 have crossed into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on since 1998 and left over 5.5 million people dead.
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