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Congo fighting persists as UN chief arrives

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MELANIE GOUBY | May 22, 2013 05:56 PM EST | AP

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GOMA, Congo — M23 rebels fired two rockets into the eastern Congo city of Goma, killing one person and wounding four, officials said, in an apparent spillover from three days of fighting raging north of the city.

The attack underscores the heightening tension in Congo and comes as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Congo's capital far to the west for a two-day visit. He is expected to visit Goma, where a new U.N. military brigade is being formed to attack rebel groups and bring stability to the mineral-rich region.

The two rockets exploded in Goma's Ndosho neighborhood, said Col. Premanku Ghosh, a U.N. peacekeeping officer in Congo who blamed M23 rebels. He said civilians were among the casualties. Earlier, another official with the U.N. peacekeeping mission said one mortar round had exploded in the neighborhood of Goma, apparently referring to the same attack. Ghosh said the range of the firing, over 10 kilometers (six miles) indicated the weapons used were rockets.

Wednesday marked the third day of fighting between the rebels and government forces just north of Goma after a nearly six-month lull, officials said. Last November, the M23 rebels, who are allegedly supported and equipped by neighboring Rwanda, seized Goma before retreating from the provincial capital fewer than two weeks later under intense international pressure.

The Congolese army is holding its positions in the area of Mutaho and there is no evident movement of M23 headed towards Goma, said Ghosh.

Mutaho, where the fighting broke out, is a largely unpopulated area in the dense forest at the foot of the Nyaragongo volcano, around 10 kilometers (six miles) northeast of Goma. Both sides are bombarding each other with mortar rounds and rockets.

Congo, an enormous country the size of Western Europe, has endured decades of conflict, especially in its mineral-rich east. An investigation by U.N. experts found that Rwanda and Uganda have backed M23, which both governments deny.

U.N. peacekeepers were widely criticized for failing to stop the rebel advance into Goma last November. Since then, the U.N. Security Council voted to create a special intervention brigade in Congo with a mandate to attack armed groups to bring back stability.

Ban told reporters in a news conference in the capital that he was deeply concerned by the renewed fighting. He stressed that international community would stand with Congo.

"We are in a very crucial and important timing at this time," he said. "The Security Council recently strengthened the mandate and role of the United Nations Peace-Keeping Mission – MONUSCO – with the introduction of an intervention brigade. This is again an unprecedented one and I am sure that this will bring peace and security at this time. ... We are deeply concerned about the recent recurrence of violence by the M23," he said.

Only around 100 soldiers from Tanzania have arrived so far to form part of the brigade. Congo's army has proven to be no match for the rebels, who are believed to be getting high-end equipment including night vision goggles from Rwanda.

The M23 called the creation of the intervention brigade "a declaration of war" and have vowed to fight the U.N. should they try to enter M23 territory.

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Associated Press reporter Saleh Mwanamilongo contributed to this report from Kinshasa, Congo.