Congo’s M23 rebels closed in on a major military camp in the country’s east on Thursday after days of fighting the army, officials said.
Clashes continued Thursday at the Rumangabo base in the Rutshuru area of North Kivu province about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the provincial capital, Goma.
“There is no truce. The fighting is still continuing this morning on the same fronts as yesterday,” deputy army spokesman Gen. Sylvain Ekenge said.
Gunfire exchanges have been heard there since early in the morning, said Manouvo Nguka, who lives in Rumangabo where the base is located.
“The army seeks to regain full control of Rumangabo,” he told The Associated Press.
The situation has been critical since Wednesday night, he added.
“There was more than an hour of exchange of fire between the loyalist army and the M23 rebels,” he said.
The army earlier confirmed the rebels also attacked its positions in the Nyragongo and Rutshuru areas.
More than 20 shells were fired by the rebels on Tuesday and Wednesday on Rumangabo, Natale, near the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature, and the surrounding area, according to a statement from military spokesman Lt. Gen. Constant Ndima.
The M23 is largely an ethnic Tutsi group opposed to the Congo government that started in 2012 and seized control of Goma, a city of more than 1 million for nearly a month. U.N. forces and Congo’s army dislodged the M23 from Goma and many of rebels fled to Rwanda and Uganda before a 2013 peace agreement. Rwanda and Uganda deny claims that they support M23.
The group has recently resurfaced with increasing attacks in eastern Congo. It accuses the Congo government of not respecting the commitments it made to integrate rebel fighters into the national army.
Gen. Benoit Chavanat, Deputy Force Commander of the United Nations mission in Congo, said its forces are backing the Congolese army against M23. He told U.N.-backed Radio Okapi the joint forces are stabilizing the situation in the Tchanzu, Runyonyi and Bunagana areas.
Pope Francis is expected to visit Congo at the beginning of July, including a trip to Goma to celebrate Mass and meet with war victims, according to Congolese authorities. However, the Vatican did not immediately respond when asked Thursday whether the current fighting would bring the pope to alter his plans.