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Congo rebel group says army strikes kill civilians

July 24, 2013

GOMA, Congo (AP) — Army helicopters struck civilians during an attack targeting the M23 rebels in eastern Congo on Wednesday, according to the group’s president and a resident.

M23 president Bertrand Bisimwa said the attack on the rebel-held Rumangabo camp, 25 miles north of Goma, killed five civilians, but that claim could not be verified. The resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the attack resulted in civilian and military casualties but could not provide figures.

Fighting resumed last week between the government and M23, a rebel group that formed last year and briefly captured Goma, the provincial capital, last November.

Congo’s army targeted Rumangabo because it was a key site for the rebels, said army spokesman Col. Olivier Hamuli.

“We have bombarded the camps at Rumangabo because it is a strategic location and important for the rebels,” he said, adding that the army could not be responsible for civilian casualties in an attack on a military site.

But a civilian spokesman for M23, Kabasha Amani, accused the army of targeting civilians, saying three children were among those the rebels claimed were killed on Wednesday.

Both sides have been accused of rights abuses in the recent fighting. Last week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over reports that army soldiers were desecrating enemy corpses.

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch accused M23 of carrying out widespread killings, rape and forced recruitment in recent months, allegations the group dismissed as “rumors.”

United Nations experts and other observers have long accused Rwanda of backing the rebels, something the government of President Paul Kagame has consistently denied.

A U.N. expert panel reported in June that Rwanda’s support for M23 had declined in recent months, but Human Rights Watch said the rebels still receive training and supplies and was able to recruit in Rwanda.

United States State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday there was “a credible body of evidence” supporting the allegations by Human Rights Watch.

She called on Rwanda “to immediately end any support to the M23” and withdraw Rwandan military personnel from eastern Congo.

Update hourly