By Spy Uganda Correspondent
The Democratic Republic of Congo deployed two warplanes against advancing M23 militants on Thursday in the country’s volatile east, sources said, after a regional bloc called for rebels to disarm.
M23 fighters recently captured the town in North Kivu province, which lies just 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Goma, a commercial hub of one million people. A security official, who requested anonymity, confirmed the warplane strikes. “We have hope, we are moving forward,” he said.
The retaliation by Congolese forces comes as the M23 has been pushing closer towards Goma, sparking fears of an attack on the city.
Drawn mostly from Congolese Tutsis, the rebel group has recently captured swathes of territory across North Kivu.
The DRC’s army has yet to communicate officially about the rebel advance. Fleeing the enemy Thousands of people packed their belongings and headed towards Goma on Tuesday, amid rumours of a rebel advance, after troops were seen fleeing.
On Wednesday, the head of the newly created East African Community (EAC) military force in eastern DR Congo, Jeff Nyagah, said that rebels must pursue political negotiations and disarm.
“Those who fail or refuse to voluntarily disarm, then we’ll go for them,” the Kenyan general warned. Nyagah also vowed that the EAC force would protect Goma.
Kenya’s former president Uhuru Kenyatta, a mediator for the crisis for the seven-nation EAC, had on Tuesday also urged militants to lay down their arms and engage in negotiations.
The EAC has called for a “peace dialogue” in Kenya’s capital Nairobi on November 21. France’s foreign ministry on Wednesday condemned the latest violence and urged the M23 to withdraw from its occupied territory, according to a statement.
The M23 first leapt to prominence in 2012 when it captured Goma, before being driven out and going to ground. But the rebel group re-emerged late last year, claiming that the DRC had failed to honour a pledge to integrate its fighters into the army, among other grievances.
Despite official denials from Kigali, an unpublished report for the United Nations in August pointed to Rwandan involvement with the M23. Rwanda accuses Kinshasa of colluding with Hutu militants who fled across the border after the 1994 Rwandan genocide.