RD Congo rebels seize new town despite UN deploymentM23 rebels patrol in Rangira, near Rutshuru, in the Democratic Republic of Congo …
A United Nations peacekeeping spokesman said the M23 rebels had taken the town of Kibumba. It lies just 25 kilometres (15 miles) north of Goma, the provincial capital of the strife-torn North Kivu province, which border Rwanda and Uganda.
The rebel victory came despite the UN's decision to send in attack helicopters to support government troops.
In New York meanwhile, the 15-nation Security Council went into an emergency session on the crisis.
The latest fighting has forced more than 7,000 people to flee to the already packed Kanyarucinya displaced persons' camp, some 10 kilometres outside Goma.
And fears were growing that the rebels might try to take Goma itself.
Saturday's fighting was just the latest clash this week between the army and the rebels of the M23 group, composed of ethnic Tutsi army mutineers.
While each side blamed the other for the latest violence, the UN's peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, said the M23 had launched an offensive with heavy weapons early Saturday.
As a result, the UN mission had deployed its peacekeepers to protect civilians.
"As part of this, 10 missions were carried out by (MONUSCO) attack helicopters," it said in a statement.
"MONUSCO firmly condemns the renewal of hostilities. It calls on the M23 to immediately halt its attacks, which have caused a deterioration of the already fragile security and humanitarian situation."
The attack helicopters, provided by Ukraine, were put on standby Friday after the M23 attacked the army just north of Goma.
MONUSCO said the latest fighting was taking place about five kilometres from the Kanyarucinya camp, which currently holds between 60,000 and 80,000 displaced people.
The UN peacekeeping spokesman said government forces and MONUSCO peacekeepers "are attempting to hold off a possible M23 advance toward Goma at Kibati," about 20 kilometres to the north.
"As of right now, UN staff in Goma are gathering at security assembly points to ensure their protection," he said, adding that UN forces in the city and its airport are on "high alert".
The clashes are the most serious in the rebellion since July, when UN attack helicopters were last put into action against the M23.
-- Fresh accusations against Rwanda --
UN experts have said Rwanda and Uganda back the rebels, a charge fiercely denied by both countries.
As the fighting flared, the DR Congo government and army levelled fresh accusations Saturday that the M23 were getting help from Rwanda.
And UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke with Rwanda's President Paul Kagame on Saturday "to request that he use his influence on the M23 to help calm the situation and restrain the M23 from continuing their attack", a UN peacekeeping spokesman said.
The UN was "not in a position to confirm direct Rwandan involvement in the M23 attacks," the spokesman said.
But he added: "We are very concerned by reports that the M23 attacking forces appear to be well-equipped and supplied."
DR Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende said the latest fighting erupted when 4,000 men in columns had descended on DR Congo territory from Rwanda.
Olivier Hamuli, a DR Congo army spokesman in North Kivu province, said the M23 was clearly receiving support from Rwanda.
"I was at the front line myself, and the shots came from Rwanda," he told AFP.
"When our combat tanks come to shell M23 positions, they are coming under fire... from Rwanda."
Hamuli said the army would launch a new offensive in the morning "to retake Kibumba and advance on the M23's positions wherever they are."
But the Rwandan army (RDF) denied they were involved.
"Every time the (DR Congo army) get beaten on the ground, they use the RDF as an excuse," spokesman Joseph Nzabamwita told AFP.
As the battle raged Saturday, some 50 soldiers' wives burned tyres on one of Goma's main streets to protest the killing and wounding of their husbands, witnesses said.
The M23 rebels are former fighters in the Tutsi rebel group the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP).
The CNDP was integrated into the DR Congo military under a 2009 peace deal, but the mutineers say they rebelled because the terms of the deal were were never fully implemented.