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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen