GOMA, DR Congo (AFP) – Fresh fighting raged in the Democratic Republic of Congo's restive east for several hours Monday as army helicopters attacked positions of the M23 rebels, who fired mortars in return, both sides said.
The latest clashes in the central African country's mineral-rich but conflict-torn east broke four days of relative calm, further damaging a tattered truce that had lasted from late May, when UN chief Ban Ki-moon visited the region, until July 14.
"There have been clashes between our troops and the M23," a Congolese officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"The M23 are firing mortars... and we've engaged helicopters to attack the enemy positions."
The M23, a group launched by Tutsi ex-soldiers who mutinied from the army in April 2012, confirmed the clashes and said army helicopters were attacking its positions around the towns of Kibati, just north of the flashpoint city of Goma, and Uvira, some 300 kilometres (200 miles) to the south.
"Since this morning the government has regularly been using helicopters... to bomb our positions in the Kibati and Uvira areas, but without success," M23 spokesman Vianney Kazarama told AFP.
He said the clashes stopped in the late afternoon, while a government officer told AFP on condition of anonymity there was a "lull" in the fighting.
There were no immediate reports of any casualties.
Kazarama renewed rebel accusations that the government is getting help from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Rwandan Hutu rebel group based in DR Congo.
The Congolese army and the M23 have both accused each other of collaborating with the FDLR, many of whose members are accused of taking part in the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda, when Hutu extremists killed some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
The UN has begun deploying its first-ever offensive force to the eastern DR Congo to fight the M23 and other armed groups. About two-thirds of the new 3,000-troop force is in place, and the UN said last week it was ready to send them into battle.
The M23 occupied Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, for 10 days in November before withdrawing from the city under international pressure.