DR Congo

DR Congo: Rebels threaten Goma in eastern offensive

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By Hez Holland

GOMA, Congo, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Congolese Tutsi insurgents advanced towards the strategic eastern city of Goma on Monday after launching a new offensive at the weekend, forcing thousands of civilians to flee, U.N. and local officials said.

Local people angered by the fighting rioted at the U.N. base in the town, and one person was killed, a U.N. spokesman said.

Fighters loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda overran an army base on Sunday in Rumangabo on the main road north from Goma, capital of North Kivu province, defying a U.N Security Council call for them to lay down their arms.

Rebel rockets destroyed two armoured vehicles from the U.N.'s peacekeeping mission, MONUC, during Sunday's clashes, wounding several peacekeepers, a MONUC spokesman said.

Fighting resumed on Monday as Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) pushed the army out of a battalion headquarters and attacked Kibumba village around 20 km (12 miles) from Goma, a MONUC military source and the CNDP said.

"At 11 a.m. this morning we pushed government forces who are fighting alongside Hutu rebels out of Kibumba and the Congolese forces have shifted to Goma which is our next target," CNDP spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa said by telephone.

"Over 10,000 people have been displaced by the fighting between Saturday and today and we continue to urge those still in the villages to avoid the fighting," he said.

The village chief of Kibumba, which is home to a camp that humanitarian workers say normally shelters 20,000 people, said both the village and the camp had emptied.

"All of the refugees and all of the inhabitants of Kibumba have already fled. They are fighting over Kibumba now. I'm heading to Goma on foot with my family," Jean-Claude Bamenya told Reuters by telephone.

Gunshots were heard in the vicinity of Goma airport shortly after sundown, a witness said.

"There are gunshots to the west of the airport in Goma itself," she said. "It's not unheard of, but it's not usually this much this early in the evening."

Christian aid agency World Vision said its staff visited Kibumba on Monday and gunfire could be heard nearby.

U.N. BLAMED

One person was killed in protests outside MONUC headquarters in Goma, U.N. military spokesman Colonel Samba Tall said.

A witness said stone-throwing demonstrators blamed the U.N. peacekeepers for allowing Nkunda's rebels to rout the Congolese government army, the FARDC.

MONUC's position was further weakened with the resignation of force commander Lt. Gen. Vicente Diaz de Villegas, who quit just seven weeks into the job. The UN said on Monday Diaz had left his post for "personal reasons" and that Ghanaian Brig. Gen. Ishmeel Ben Quartey would serve as acting commander.

The CNDP accuses Congo's army of collaborating with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which includes Hutu militias and ex-Rwandan soldiers responsible for Rwanda's 1994 genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Resource watchdog Global Witness has said the Congolese army and the FDLR are financing hostilities by running tin and gold mines in Congo. Some 80 percent of Congolese tin ore comes from North and South Kivu.

Around 100,000 civilians have fled their homes in North Kivu since a January peace deal collapsed in August. Congo's 1998-2003 war and resulting humanitarian disaster have killed an estimated 5.4 million people, most through hunger and disease.

(Additional reporting by Joe Bavier in Kinshasa and Frank Nyakairu in Kigali; Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Giles Elgood)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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