* U.N. says M23 rebels had night-vision goggles, mortars
* Local governor blames Rwanda for rebel support
* Rwanda denies accusations, UN Security Council meets
(Adds Security Council statement, UN peacekeeping chief)
By Jonny Hogg and Louis Charbonneau
KINSHASA/UNITED NATIONS, Nov 17 U.N. attack
helicopters hit rebel positions in eastern Congo on Saturday
after insurgents equipped with sophisticated night-vision
equipment and mortars gained ground in heavy clashes with
government troops and took control of a town, the U.N. said.
The clashes to the south of the town Kibumba meant the
rebels have advanced to within 30 km (18 miles) of Goma, the
closest they have been to North Kivu's provincial capital since
a rebellion exploded in the eastern provinces eight months ago.
North Kivu Governor Julien Paluku said the army retreated to
the southern outskirts of the town after M23 rebels - a group of
soldiers who mutinied in April - advanced with support from
neighbouring Rwanda. A Congolese government statement said
4,000 Rwandans had crossed the border, although Kinshasa later
reduced that estimate to 3,500.
Rwanda rejected the accusations, the latest in a string of
charges by the Congolese government in Kinshasa. The Rwandan
government called on Congo's army and the rebels to halt the
fighting as shells were landing in its territory.
"Kibumba has fallen into the hands of the M23," a spokesman
for the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations said in an
email. "Latest reports indicate that the FARDC (Congo's army)
and MONUSCO (U.N.) forces are attempting to hold off a possible
M23 advance toward Goma at Kibati, some 20 km north of Goma."
"We are not in a position to confirm direct Rwandan
involvement in the M23 attacks," the spokesman said. "However,
we are very concerned by reports that the M23 attacking forces
appear to be well-equipped and supplied."
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters that
the M23 rebels have sophisticated equipment.
"They have night vision equipment which is precisely what
allowed them to launch their offensive at 4 a.m. this morning
against the FARDC," he said. "They also have ... 120 mm mortars,
which they did not have no so long ago."
The peacekeeping spokesman said U.N. Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon called Congo's foreign minister, Raymond Tshibanda, to
voice support for Kinshasa, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame to
urge him to "use his influence on the M23 to help calm the
situation and restrain the M23 from continuing their attack."
SECURITY COUNCIL URGES M23 TO HALT ADVANCE
French Ambassador Gerard Araud called for an emergency
meeting the U.N. Security Council in New York. The council
issued a unanimous statement that condemned the M23 attacks and
demanded an end to "all outside support and supply of equipment
to the M23."
The statement said the 15 council members "express their
intention to apply additional targeted sanctions against the
leadership of the M23 and those acting in violation of the
sanctions regime and the arms embargo."
The council also called on M23 to halt "any further advances
towards the city of Goma."
U.N. experts have said in reports they have evidence that
Rwanda has supported the M23 rebels in m ineral-rich eastern
Congo. They have called on the Security Council to impose
sanctions on Rwandan officials in response.
Earlier this week the council's Congo sanctions committee
add M23 leader Sultani Makenga to its sanctions list.
The council statement did not explicitly name Rwanda as a
supplier of M23.
More than 5 million people are estimated to have died from
violence, hunger and disease in wars in Congo since 1998, which
would make it the deadliest conflict since World War Two.
The peacekeeping spokesman said the humanitarian impact of
the fighting was devastating. He added that U.N. troops in Goma
and at its airport were on high alert.
The United Nations has about 6,700 MONUSCO forces in North
Kivu, with about 1,400 troops in Goma and the surrounding area.
"The Rwandan army came across the border behind our troops,
that's why our troops withdrew," Paluku told Reuters by
"The (rebels) are just a few kilometres away, so of course
Goma is under threat, we can't hide that," he said, adding that
government troops were regrouping at Kilimanyoka, 12 km (7
miles) north of the city. Rebels said they had no immediate
plans to attack Goma.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo said army units had
come under heavy weapons fire since early on Saturday morning,
forcing civilians to flee. U.N. attack helicopters were
dispatched to strike rebel positions south of Kibumba.
"So far ten missions have been carried out by our attack
helicopters," a U.N. statement said. The United Nations has a
mandate to protect civilians and support government troops when
they need it.
No casualty figures have been given by any force.
Rwanda's army has repeatedly sent soldiers into Congo during
nearly two decades of conflict in Africa's Great Lakes region,
but Kigali has strongly denied Congolese and U.N. accusations of
support for the M23.
"These are absolutely false allegations. They are very
tired, and very old. Whenever DRC (the Democratic Republic of
Congo) is defeated on the battlefield, it's meant to be
(Rwanda's army)," Rwandan army spokesman Brigadier General
Joseph Nzabamwita told Reuters.
"Rwanda has called on (Congo's army) and M23 to stop this
useless war ... Rwanda is being violated by constant bomb shells
on our territory," he added.
More than three-quarters of a million people have fled their
homes since the fighting began, and regional efforts to find a
solution have so far failed.
M23 spokesman Vianney Kazarama told Reuters the rebels would
not advance past Kibumba to Goma.
(Additional reporting by Jenny Clover in Kigali, Louis
Charbonneau in New York; Writing by David Lewis and Louis
Charbonneau; Editing by Rosalind Russell and Doina Chiacu)