At LEAST eight people were killed – most of them civilians – when fighting erupted between rival factions of eastern Congo’s most powerful rebel group, according to a UN-backed radio station and a local source.
The clashes deep inside territory controlled by the M23 insurgents risk undermining regionally backed peace talks in neighbouring Uganda between the fighters and Democratic Republic of Congo’s government.
They appear to be the first serious sign of tensions within the group, which caused shockwaves in November when it routed government troops and pushed past UN peacekeepers to briefly seize Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu.
UN-backed Radio Okapi said the fighting broke out on Sunday in the rebel stronghold of Rutshuru between fighters loyal to M23’s military chief, Sultani Makenga, and supporters of warlord Bosco Ntaganda.
Ntaganda triggered the insurgency last April when he quit his post as a Congolese army general, taking hundreds of soldiers with him.
The eight people died when a rocket hit a bar in the centre of the town, the radio station reported. A businessman said he saw the eight dead bodies and said the fighting was between rival elements of M23.
Nicknamed “The Terminator”, Rwandan-born Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes including the massacre of civilians during a previous Tutsi rebellion.
The UN says he controls the M23 rebellion, but M23 has repeatedly denied his involvement in the group.
Political analysts say stalled talks between M23 and the Congolese government in Uganda could be exposing old grievances between Makenga and Ntaganda.