Rebels in Congo reached the outskirts of the eastern city of Goma on Sunday after pushing back U.N. peacekeepers and government troops, but a rebel spokesman said they did not plan to take the city.
In four days of battles, the rebels have advanced closer than at any time in their eight-month uprising to Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu and home to the headquarters of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Colonel Vianney Kazarama, spokesman for the M23 rebels, said fighters had advanced to within two kilometres of Goma. He said the rebels would hold their position around five km outside the city and that fighting had stopped for the day.
"We’re not going to take the airport, we are responding to an attack by the army ... We’re just doing this to break the capacity of the FARDC (Congolese army)," Kazarama told Reuters.
"The situation remains under control," he said later in a text message.
Earlier, Colonel Olivier Hamuli, a spokesman for the Congolese army, spoke to Reuters briefly by telephone before the line was cut. "There is combat about five km from the airport," he said.
U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Kieran Dwyer said from New York that "the rebels bypassed Kibati and are in the general area of Munigi, which is about seven km from Goma and close to the Goma airport."
"The United Nations peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, engaged throughout the day supporting the FARDC to protect civilians and in self-defence, including carrying out sorties and firing from attack helicopter missions that have fired rockets and cannon rounds," Dwyer said in an email.
The United Nations has about 6,700 peacekeeping forces in North Kivu, with some 1,400 troops in Goma and the surrounding area. The force has a mandate to protect civilians.
"The situation in Goma is extremely tense," Dwyer said. "There is a real threat that the city could fall into the M23’s hands and/or be seriously destabilized as a result of the fighting."