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UN Troops Attack M23 Rebel Positions In Eastern DR Congo

UN troops stationed in the Democratic Republic of Congo have joined government forces in attacking at least two positions held by M23 rebels, comprising renegade soldiers who mutinied in April under the leadership of Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, in the east of the country, media reports citing unnamed officials said Thursday.

According to the media reports, three helicopters belonging to the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC - MONUSCO - and two gunships of the DR Congo army attacked rebel positions in the villages of Nkokwe and Bukima.

Both the targeted villages are located some 30 miles north of the Nord-Kivu capital Goma, which the rebels had threatened to capture a day earlier unless attacks on civilians in the city were not stopped immediately.

Soon after the rebels made their threat, UN special representative to DR Congo Roger Meece had said that the UN peacekeeping mission in the country was in the process of re-deploying most of its 19,000-strong forces to Goma to protect civilian centers in the city from the advancing M23 rebels.

Such military intervention by UN forces have been rare in the past. Nevertheless, experts believe that the latest UN action was apparently triggered by the mission's frustration over the rebels' failure to end their continued offensives in the region despite repeated warnings.

Notably, the renegade soldiers have captured several towns in the region after they deserted the Army earlier this year. An Indian soldier with the UN peacekeeping mission was killed last week during the fighting for Bunagana, a town located near the border with Uganda.

Intensive fighting between government troops and the M23 in DRC's eastern provinces of North and South Kivu has displaced more than 100,000 people, including many who have fled to neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.

The International Criminal Court has already issued a warrant for Ntaganda's arrest on charges of recruiting child soldiers to his militia. However, Ntaganda, who is also known as "Terminator," has rejected the charges.

Nataganda was made a General in DRC's Army under peace deal signed on March 23, 2009. Under that deal, his National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), a former Congolese Tutsi rebel group, was integrated into the national army.

A recent UN report had accused the Rwandan government led by President Paul Kagame of supporting Ntaganda's rebel group. But both the Rwandan government and the M23 rebels have strongly denied those allegations. Incidentally, both Kagame and Ntaganda are ethnic Tutsis.

Earlier on Thursday, foreign ministers of the DRC and Rwanda, along with their counterparts from neighboring states, had called for the establishment of a international military force to tackle the threats posed by the presence of armed rebel groups in the region.

The joint call was made by foreign ministers of nearly a dozen states of the Great Lakes region, made up of Burundi, DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The ministers also expressed doubts on the ability of 19,000-strong MONUSCO to bring peace to the region.

Besides fighting the mutineers, the Congolese security forces are also engaged in separate offensives against Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda rebels in the east and the Uganda-based Lord's Resistance Army in the north.

UN peace-keepers were sent to DR Congo in 1999 as part of international efforts aimed at ending the 1999-2002 civil war and establish peace in the region. The fighting dragged in six other countries and left more than four million people dead. Nevertheless, fighting continues sporadically in the east, where the bulk of UN forces are deployed. In late June, the UN Security Council extended the mission's mandate for one more year.

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