The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government forces have captured the city of Rutshuru in the third day of violent fighting in eastern part of the country.
Fighting broke out on Friday after peace talks between the Congolese government and the March 23 movement (M23) rebels in Uganda collapsed when rebels demanded a full amnesty for their leaders.
On Sunday, Congo’s army spokesman Colonel Olivier Hamuli told UN radio Okapi that government forces had taken back control of Rutshuru, some 70 kilometers (43 miles) north of Goma, the largest city in eastern Congo.
The rebels took Rutshuru more than a year ago. The city was serving as a regional base.
Eelier on Sunday, the army took the rebel-held town of Kiwanja, a day after wresting the strategic outpost of Kibumba which is on the Rwandan border.
“We are consolidating the zones we have conquered,” Hamuli said. He also refused to discuss rebel requests for a return to negotiations, noting, “We will continue to do our jobs as soldiers.”
M23 said in a Sunday statement that it had pulled out its troops from Kiwanja, and accused Congo’s military of sending in fighters in civilian clothing in a bid to draw UN forces into the conflict.
The group also threatened to withdraw its delegation from the stalled talks unless there was an “immediate cessation of the hostilities.”
Meanwhile, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) said that a Tanzanian peacekeeper was killed during fighting in Kiwanja with the M23 rebels.
“The soldier died while protecting the people of Kiwanja,” said MONUSCO head Martin Kobler in a statement.
The UN has sent a special brigade of 3,000 African troops with a tough mandate to Congo.
The M23 rebels and several other armed groups are active in the eastern Congo and are fighting for control of the country’s vast mineral resources, such as gold, the main tin ore cassiterite, and coltan (columbite-tantalite), which is used to make many electronic devices, including cell phones.
Since early May 2012, nearly three million people have fled their homes in the eastern Congo. About 2.5 million have resettled in Congo, but about 500,000 have crossed into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.