One peacekeeper killed in Congo after U.N. chopper comes under fire

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo Feb 5 (Reuters) - One U.N. peacekeeper from South Africa was killed in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday when a helicopter operated by the peacekeeping force came under fire while in mid-air, the U.N. mission in Congo and South Africa's military said.

The helicopter came under fire after taking off from the city of Beni in the early afternoon.

Another South African peacekeeper was also wounded in the attack but was able to continue flying and landed safely at the airport of the provincial capital Goma, the South African National Defence Force said in a statement.

Neither South Africa nor the U.N. mission called MONUSCO said who might be responsible. They also did not say what weapon was fired at the helicopter or what caused the casualties.

Congo's government blamed the M23 rebel group, which is in frequent combat with the Congolese army in the region, for attacking the aircraft. M23 spokesperson Willy Ngoma denied it and told Reuters it was not over M23 territory.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission of around 18,200 personnel has been deployed in eastern Congo since taking over from a previous U.N. operation in 2010. Its mandate includes supporting the Congolese government's effort to stabilise a region racked by rebel violence.

Eight peacekeepers were killed last year when their helicopter crashed in a part of North Kivu province, where the Congolese army was fighting a rebel group known as the M23.

Reporting by Fiston Mahamba, Stanis Bujakera, Erikas Mwisi Kambale, Sonia Rolley Writing by Alessandra Prentice and Nellie Peyton; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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