[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 September 2007, 21:13 GMT 22:13 UK
Air raid 'kills 80 Congo rebels'
General Laurent Nkunda
Gen Nkunda says he is protecting ethnic Tutsis
The Democratic Republic of Congo has used a helicopter gunship for the first time in the fighting against rebels in the east of the country.

A Congolese general told the BBC that the bodies of 80 rebel fighters had been found but this has not been independently confirmed.

The clashes are continuing in two parts of North Kivu province, including in a park inhabited by mountain gorillas.

Some 170,000 people have fled the area this year, says the UN refugee agency.

The air strike by the Mi-24 gunship took place some 80km (50 miles) west of the regional capital, Goma, Colonel Delphin Kahimbi told the BBC.

"There was heavy fighting near Karuba. We deployed an attack helicopter to back our ground troops," he told the AFP news agency.

A Congolese general also said there was fighting near Sake, about 40km (25 miles) west of Goma, where fighting broke out last week.

The army says that 180 rebel fighters have now been killed in recent days.

Outrage

Conservationists are increasingly concerned for the remaining 700 mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park.

Half of these live in Virunga, where the army is attacking the positions of renegade General Laurent Nkunda.

Map showing location of Virunga National Park (Source: WildlifeDirect)

"If anything happens to the mountain gorillas now, there is nothing we can do," said Norbert Mushenzi of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN).

"As of today, the sector is no longer under my control and we have been rendered powerless by these actions."

Nine gorillas have been killed this year, allegedly by Gen Nkunda's men, sparking outrage among conservationists.

Gen Nkunda's forces are believed to have moved into the park in pursuit of Rwandan Hutu rebels, who have bases there.

Officials from local conservation group, Wildlife Direct, say the forces looted weapons and communication equipment from Jomba and Bikenge ranger patrol posts within the park.

A third post, Bukima, was evacuated for fear of imminent attack, the group said.

'State of war'

Gen Nkunda, a Tutsi, has accused the government of forming an alliance against him with the Hutu FDLR, accused of involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide of Tutsis.

After Tutsis took control in Rwanda, they crossed the border into eastern DR Congo.

Rangers standing next to the four dead gorillas (Image: Altor IGCP Goma from August 07)
Nine gorillas have already been killed this year
Over the weekend, Gen Nkunda told the BBC there was a "state of war" in North Kivu.

The United Nations says up to 10,000 people have fled the latest fighting into Uganda.

The UN refugee agency says it is organising shelter for those who fled the violence Monday night and wish to stay on the Ugandan side of the frontier.

Following a visit by Rwandan Foreign Minister Charles Murigande to Kinshasa, DR Congo has promised to increase its operations against the FDLR.

Rwanda has twice invaded its large neighbour, saying it is trying to stop the FDLR from attacking its territory.

Peacekeepers

BBC Kinshasa correspondent Arnaud Zajtman says that the two countries are still divided by the same issues which have divided them for years - DR Congo wants Rwanda to rein in Tutsi fighters, such as Gen Nkunda, while Rwanda wants DR Congo to stop the activities of the Hutu rebels, known as the FDLR.

Last month, Rwanda protested against DR Congo's move to call off an offensive against the FDLR.

Mr Murigande and his Congolese counterpart Mbusa Nyamwisi also asked the UN to intensify patrols in the east of the country where fighting is raging.

The UN has some 17,000 peacekeepers in DR Congo - the largest such force in the world and has sent an extra 200 troops to the region after the latest fighting.

Our reporter says the ministers have also agreed to form a commission to ensure that Congolese ethnic Tutsis who are refugees in Rwanda are repatriated.


RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific