, KINSHASA, Oct 19 – The United Nations accused rebels from the M23 movement in the Democratic Republic of Congo of firing on a UN helicopter on Friday, the second such incident in a week.
“Two helicopters left on reconnaissance missions this morning… the pilots of one of the helicopters felt some impacts on the cockpit… and landed” to inspect the damage, a source with the UN peacekeeping mission (Monusco) in DR Congo, told AFP.
The head of the UN mission to the country, Martin Kobler, and the Special Envoy to Africa’s Great Lakes region, Mary Robinson, in a statement strongly condemned “a new attack by the M23 against an unarmed Monusco helicopter, the second in less than a week.”
A heavily-armed 3,000-strong UN intervention brigade joined 17,000 peacekeepers already deployed in the country with a mission to carry out offensive operations, alone or with Congolese troops, against rebel fighters operating in the troubled eastern region.
The brigade’s troops are drawn in equal numbers from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania.
The two UN officials were in Kampala, Uganda, on Friday where peace talks between Kinshasa and the M23 resumed in early September but have stalled for several weeks.
“Monusco believes that nothing should distract or disturb a successful outcome of the Kampala talks,” Kobler and Robinson added.
The helicopter incident took place some 15 kilometres (10 miles) north of Goma, capital of North Kivu province, which has been in turmoil since warfare ravaged the country from 1996 to 2003.
There were no injuries and the helicopter was able to return to base.
Last week, Congolese M23 rebels shot at a UN helicopter but no one was injured.
The M23 was founded by former Tutsi rebels who were incorporated into the Congolese army under a 2009 peace deal.
Complaining the deal was never fully implemented, they mutinied in April 2012, turning their guns on their former comrades and launching the latest rebellion to ravage DR Congo’s mineral-rich and conflict-prone east.
A spokesman for the rebels, Vianney Kazarama, denied that the M23 was behind the attack.
“This morning, the M23 did not fire and did not want to fire on Monusco,” said Kazarama, indicating that the shots came from the Congolese army (FARDC).
But Lieutenant-Colonel Olivier Hamuli, a spokesman for the army in North Kivu, hit back, saying: “Monusco is a partner of the FARDC and we are together on the ground. It’s the M23 which shot,” said Hamuli.