GOMA, DR Congo: Fresh fighting flared in the resource-rich eastern Democratic Republic of Congo Thursday, with government forces backed by U.N. troops shelling rebels near Goma and tensions spilling over into neighbouring Rwanda.
Artillery fire could be heard around Kibati north of Goma, the capital of the turbulent North Kivu province, where the DR Congo army and a newly-formed U.N. intervention brigade have been battling M23 rebels for a week.
A Rwandan woman was also killed and her baby injured in what an official alleged was "deliberate" cross-border shelling. The United Nations and Kinshasa accuse Rwanda of supporting the M23, a charge that Kigali denies.
Western military sources who asked not to be named said that the clash could be a prelude to a full-on assault by the army and U.N. troops, who have an unprecedented mandate to take the offensive against the armed movements long active in the mineral-rich but impoverished Kivu region.
The two eastern Kivu provinces, North and South, have been chronically unstable since two wars wracked the vast country between 1996 and 2003, drawing in armies from neighbouring and southern African countries, who fought in part over access to vast mineral wealth.
All flights to Goma, a city of a million people that was occupied by M23 for 10 days last November, have been suspended since the outlying airport is vulnerable, said a source in MONUSCO, the U.N. mission in the country.
On Wednesday a U.N. soldier from Tanzania was killed and three others wounded in the fighting, U.N. and military sources said.
The U.N. intervention force is using attack helicopters and mortars in the Kibati hills, while firing on other rebel positions with heavy artillery, according to MONUSCO spokesman Madnodje Mounoubai.
Four shells fell early Wednesday night on Goma, two of them striking the area where the airport lies east of the city, but nobody could say who fired them. Residents said shellfire killed one person and wounded about 15 others in the north of the city.
Bloodshed also spilled over to the Rwandan town of Rubavu, situated adjacent to Goma.
"A shell landed in town and killed a woman and seriously wounded her child," the deputy mayor of Rubavu, Ezechiel Nsengiyumva Buntu, told AFP.
"We can hear the shelling on the other side" of the border, he said. "We have alerted people but we have no idea where they will fire."
He alleged the attack was "deliberate".
The M23 rebels have emerged as one of the most formidable forces operating in the DR Congo's east. They accuse the Kinshasa government of reneging on a 2009 peace pact and a deal to hold direct talks, and have threatened to attack Goma again.