KINSHASA: Congolese troops readied Monday to seize a stronghold of M23 fighters in the latest push forward against the rebels in the resource-rich eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, senior military sources said Monday.
Troops, backed by a special United Nations force, launched a fresh assault against the M23 army mutineers late last month, with the rebels pulling back on Friday from positions around the mining hub city of Goma.
The upsurge in fighting has raised concerns, with UN special envoy Mary Robinson visiting the region amid the escalation in violence.
Now DR Congo forces are aiming to take back the rebel base at Kibumba, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of Goma, with government troops just some two kilometres from the insurgent base.
While still calm, the attack on Kibumba is expected "in the very near future," the senior Congolese army officer said.
The army had previously claimed to have already taken Kibumba, but the reports were dismissed by rebels.
On Friday, M23 fighters retreated from positions around 15 kilometres (10 miles) north of Goma they had held since December, where they had dug in after agreeing a deal to end their 12-day occupation of the city.
The rebels said their decision for a 'unilateral ceasefire' and withdrawal was aimed at "creating a favourable climate" for a "political solution to the crisis".
However, they warned that they were not prepared to wait long for the government to reciprocate.
The two parties are engaged in talks in the Ugandan capital Kampala, but these negotiations have made virtually no progress since they started at the end of last year.
Overnight Sunday, the M23 accused the government of readying "troops and tanks to open a new military front in Mabenga", a town some 90 kilometres (55 miles) north of Goma.
Western military sources confirmed tanks had been recently deployed near Mabenga, a strategic town commanding a key crossroads.
The military offensive also came amid fresh UN accusations made last week that Rwanda -- a temporary Security Council member -- has been actively backing the rebels.
On Thursday, the UN said it had "consistent and credible reports" of Rwandan troops entering DR Congo to support the rebels, but Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo scotched the reports in comments made on Twitter.
"Rwandan troops are not in DRC (yet), when they are, you will know," she wrote Friday, without giving further details.
Rwanda has always flatly denied supporting the M23, a predominantly ethnic-Tutsi force that deserted from the Congolese army last year to turn its guns on its comrades.
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.
The latest flaring of fighting in the east risks further complicating the so-called National Dialogue, a nationwide concertation that is supposed to involve the country's political parties and civil society groups and that is due to open Wednesday in three major cities.
The three major opposition parties have already said they will boycott the dialogue, which is supposed to result in a solution to DRC's political, social and military woes.
On Thursday delegates from 11 countries in the region will meet in Kampala in the latest of what has been billed as a series of attempts to restore peace to eastern DRC.