Rebels draw first blood in the battle for Congo

Death of UN soldier deepens military crisis along border with Rwanda

The United Nations’ controversial “intervention brigade”, a force with an unprecedented mandate to go on the offensive against rebels in the Eastern Congo, has suffered its first casualties amid escalating fighting in the area. At least one UN soldier from Tanzania has been killed and three South Africans wounded as the blue helmets fought alongside the Congolese army against the M23 rebel group.

A week of fierce clashes near the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, which has been accused of supporting M23, now threatens to boil over into an open conflict between the two states.

An unknown number of rebel fighters and Congolese government soldiers have been killed during an offensive aimed at driving the M23 away from Goma, the regional aid and trading hub of Eastern Congo.

Two civilians were killed on the Rwandan side of the border today after artillery shells landed in the frontier town of Gisenyi. Rwanda warned on Wednesday that any further shelling of its territory would be tantamount to crossing a “red line” and that it would be forced to intervene.

Unconfirmed reports suggested that some units from the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) today crossed the border into Eastern Congo. Rwandan troops have regularly clashed with Congolese forces along the border in recent years but the prospect of direct fighting between the UN brigade and the RDF would mark a major escalation of the conflict. Such a conflict was described by one diplomat as a “doomsday scenario” with the potential to trigger a war that could pull in several nations.

The M23, whose leadership hails from the Tutsis, the same ethnic group as Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, briefly occupied Goma last November, humiliating Congolese forces and UN peacekeepers tasked with guarding the city. The UN Security Council responded by calling for a 3,000-strong intervention force with a mandate to neutralise armed groups in the area.

South Africa and Tanzania have provided the bulk of the force and Malawian soldiers are due to join them shortly. The UN force will also be provided with attack helicopters and intelligence-gathering drones to monitor movements across the borders between the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda.

Rwanda has denied supporting the M23 – soldiers who launched a mutiny last year to protest broken promises made during a peace deal in 2009 – but a UN group of experts has published a dossier of evidence detailing Kigali’s involvement with the rebels. A number of Western governments, including the UK, froze aid payments to Rwanda in response to the allegations of meddling in its much larger neighbour. Both Rwanda and the M23 have accused the UN of taking sides in the conflict and pointed to the continued presence of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), an ethnic Hutu-led group operating in Eastern Congo.

Conversely the UN has been accused of inaction inside Congo, and protests in Goma over the weekend, calling for the intervention brigade to attack the M23, turned violent and two demonstrators were shot dead. The UN has launched an inquiry into the killings, while Uruguay, which provides some of the peacekeepers stationed in Goma, has denied claims that its troops opened fire on protesters.

Eastern Congo, which has great mineral wealth, has been the cradle of near-constant conflict since the last Congolese war. Rwanda has sought an area of influence in Congo’s eastern Kivu provinces, partly to protect the large Rwandaphone minority but also because Tutsi military commanders have established control over lucrative mining, timber and farming operations.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace