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Suspected rebels in women's clothing invade Congo
Associated Press
Ugandan police trucks carrying refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) travels from Busunga border post to Bubukwanga town in Uganda on July 14, 2013.    AFP PHOTO/ ISAAC KASAMANI
Ugandan police trucks carrying refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) travels from Busunga border post to Bubukwanga town in Uganda on July 14, 2013. AFP PHOTO/ ISAAC KASAMANI
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GOMA: Fresh fighting has erupted in eastern Congo, after more than 100 armed men disguised in women's clothing entered the country from Rwanda, say residents.

The heavy fighting between the Congo army and M23 rebels resumed Monday morning after starting on Sunday following the arrival of the armed men in women's clothes, say local inhabitants.

"They were wearing kikwembe" - a Congolese shawl worn by women - "over their uniforms, and women's headscarves," said Bifumbu Ruhira, a farmer at the village of Kanyarucinya on the front line between the Congolese army and the M23 rebels, who started fighting the government last year.

Ruhira told the Associated Press he saw the oddly dressed combatants get off two trucks on the Rwandan side and run across the border. "They were wearing kikwembe to confuse us, to conceal the fact they were soldiers," he said. "The whole village was afraid and I said to my wife, 'Get to Goma,'" he said, naming the nearby provincial capital which he thought would be safe from the fighting.

Another resident, Bakari Murefu, confirmed the account and said the fighting broke out at 2 p.m. Sunday, shortly after the armed men crossed the border and reinforced the M23 rebel ranks located some three kilometers (1.6 miles) from Kanyarucinya.

A report published last month by the United Nations panel of experts studying Congo alleges that Rwandan soldiers have joined the M23 in recent months, a claim that Rwanda adamantly denies.

Last year, the U.N. experts alleged that entire units from the Rwandan army had travelled to Congo to reinforce the M23 in battle. Though Rwanda has consistently denied supporting M23, the allegations have been deemed plausible by numerous donor countries, which have cut off aid to Rwanda over the accusations.

Both sides blamed each other for the renewed fighting Sunday, which continued until dusk, and then resumed Monday morning.

The Congolese army and Rwandan rebel allies attacked the M23 positions 12 kilometers (7 miles) north of Goma, charged rebel spokesman Vianney Kazarama.

It is not clear which side has the upper hand in the fighting. Small arms, mortar and rocket fire was moving west, suggesting the M23 was making progress. But the heavier fire appeared to be coming from the Congolese army, which was reinforced with tanks.

Morale seemed high on the army side, where Col. Jacky Zeng told the AP: "The M23 are attacking us again so as to be noticed. They are worried that people have forgotten about them."

Peace talks between the Congolese government and the M23 stalled again last week as the head of the M23 delegation, Rene Abandi, complained that the head of the government delegation had left the talks.

There has also been renewed fighting further north on Congo's border with Uganda, where an Islamist Ugandan rebel group has occupied several villages near the town of Beni. More than 60,000 civilians have fled from the area to Uganda, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Congo, an enormous nation which stretches across a territory as large as Western Europe, has been repeatedly dragged into conflict by rebellions in its troubled east. The complex conflict traces its roots to the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda, led by the country's Hutu majority. The killers fled across the porous border into Congo, where they regrouped into a number of rebel groups. To fight them, Rwanda's Tutsi-led government is accused of financing and providing military and logistic support to rebel groups made up of mostly Tutsi fighters, the ethnic group that bore the brunt of the genocide.

The latest Tutsi-led group in eastern Congo is the M23, which is made up of fighters from a previous Tutsi-led rebellion whose leaders had reluctantly agreed to join the ranks of the Congolese army in 2011. In April of last year, these former rebels-turned-soldiers defected en masse from the Congolese military, creating M23, which went on to invade and briefly occupy the major eastern city of Goma late last year. The speed with which the rebels took the city, marching past thousands of U.N. peacekeepers and systematically overtaking Congolese military positions, led many to conclude that the new rebel group was propped up by Rwanda.

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