U.N Chopper Shot Down By Rebels In East Congo, Army Says
A helicopter belonging to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Democratic Republic of Congo was shot down by M23 rebel fighters in eastern Congo on Tuesday with eight people on board, the Congolese army said in a statement.
The U.N. mission, known as MONUSCO, said earlier in the day that it had lost contact with the chopper near Tshanzu, where rebels are staging an offensive.
The M23 group, which was driven out of Congo after an insurgency in 2012 and 2013, attacked two army positions near the border with Uganda and Rwanda on Sunday night and fighting continued into Tuesday.
The helicopter was shot down in an area controlled by the rebels while on a mission to track civilian population movements, said the Congolese army statement. The eight on board included MONUSCO crew members and U.N. observers, it said.
The Congolese army and MONUSCO are working to find the aircraft and potential survivors.
A spokesman for the M23 could not immediately be reached for comment.
The rebels had moved into the city of Kabindi on Tuesday and were nearing the area’s local administrative seat, the town of Rutshuru, according to a civil society coordinator.
“If these enemies manage to dislodge our forces, Rutshuru centre will fall,” Jean Damascene Baziyaka told reporters.
Neighbouring Rwanda denied involvement in the violence after Congo said it had captured two Rwandan soldiers backing the M23.
When M23 fighters were driven out of Congo in 2013 they fled into Rwanda and Uganda. U.N. investigators have previously accused Rwanda and Uganda of supporting the group, which both countries have denied.
There have been regional efforts in recent years to demobilise the M23, but its leaders have complained about the slow implementation of a peace accord and accused the Congolese army of waging war against it.
M23 rebels launched a similar attack in the same area in November that was rebuffed by the Congolese army.
Uganda Red Cross spokesperson Irene Nakasita said 6,000 refugees crossed into Uganda from Congo on Monday.