UN helicopter crashes in eastern Congo, killing 8 peacekeepers

KINSHASA – Eight peacekeepers were killed when a UN helicopter crashed in eastern DRC amid rebel fighting on Tuesday, the United Nations said.

The bodies of the peacekeepers have been taken to Goma and an investigation into the circumstances of the crash is underway, the United Nations said in a statement.

They included six crew members from the Pakistani military and two military personnel – one from Russia and one from Serbia, the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, said in a statement.

The Pakistan Army said all eight people died and gave the names of the pilot and crew. Pakistan has been sending an aviation unit to the UN mission in Congo since 2011, it said.

The helicopter was on a reconnaissance mission when it crashed in the Tshanzu area of ​​North Kivu province, where clashes broke out this week between the Congolese army and a rebel group known as the M23, MONUSCO said.

The Congolese army said the helicopter was shot down by rebels, which the spokesman for the M23 denied. MONUSCO did not specify the cause of the crash and said investigations were ongoing.

The M23 group was driven out of Congo after an insurgency in 2012 and 2013 and chased into neighboring Uganda and Rwanda. Its fighters have since returned to wage attacks, including one in the same part of Congo in November.

Heavy fighting began when the M23 attacked two positions of the Congolese army on Sunday night. The rebels had moved into the town of Kabindi on Tuesday and were approaching the region’s local administrative headquarters, the town of Rutshuru, according to a civil society coordinator.

“If these enemies succeed in driving out our forces, the center of Rutshuru will fall,” Jean Damascene Baziyaka told reporters.

Uganda’s army has also joined the fight and said it killed 14 M23 fighters near the Congo border on Tuesday.

“Tonight they (M23) attacked us, they shelled the Ugandan side and some civilian houses were destroyed. Our forces responded and 14 rebels were killed, seven became prisoners of war,” said Ugandan military spokesman Brigadier Felix Kulayigye, adding that one of his soldiers also died in the fighting.

In recent years there have been regional efforts to demobilize the M23, but their leaders have complained about the slow implementation of a peace deal and accused the Congolese army of waging war against them.

M23 spokesman Willy Ngoma said Tuesday the group was only fighting to defend itself.

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