BENI, Congo (AP) — Congo’s M23 rebel group denied on Wednesday that it shot down a United Nations helicopter that crashed in eastern Congo, killing all eight people onboard.
Rebel spokesman Will Ngoma accused Congo’s army of firing on the helicopter. Congo’s military had earlier blamed the M23 for the crash of the U.N. helicopter.
Eight U.N. peacekeepers were killed in the crash amid rebel fighting Sunday, the U.N. mission in Congo said. The bodies of the peacekeepers were taken to Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, and an investigation has been launched into the cause of the crash, the U.N. mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, said.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the U.N. team would work in cooperation with the Congolese government.
Those on board the Puma helicopter included six crew members — all from the Pakistani military — and two military personnel, one from the Russian Federation and one from Serbia, the U.N. said.
It was one of two helicopters in eastern Congo to monitor the situation after the rebels attacked several villages in North Kivu, including Tchanzu near Rutshuru, Runyonyi, Ndiza and Tchengerero.
Dujarric said MONUSCO was continuing “to carry out reconnaissance in the area around Rutshuru to monitor the activities of armed groups and to do whatever it can to protect civilians,” and to support the Congolese army with information sharing, logistics, and first aid for injured soldiers.
Pakistan’s military said that all the passengers had died, giving the names of the Pakistan pilot and crew.
Eastern Congo is prone to insecurity as several armed groups are vying for control its mineral-rich lands. In 2012 the M23 rebels controlled large areas of eastern Congo, including Goma. The rebels were eventually pushed from eastern Congo into Uganda and Rwanda in 2013 by Congolese and United Nations forces.
Despite ongoing efforts to disarm the group, M23 rebels have recently increased their attacks in the region.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “is deeply concerned by the resurgence of M23 activities in the border area” of Congo, close to Rwanda and Uganda, “as well as the ongoing impact of violence involving armed groups on civilians,” Dujarric said.
M23 spokesman Ngoma said that the group remains a political and military movement in Congo and does not receive aid from neighboring Rwanda or Uganda.
“We have weapons that were left by the Congolese army on the battlefields,” he said, speaking on a mobile phone from an undisclosed location in eastern Congo. He said the group will stop its attacks if Congo will honor a peace accord it signed with them.
Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.
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