GOMA, Congo (AP) — Congo's government accused Rwanda on Friday of supporting a rebel attack on Goma after mortar rounds killed a mother and her three children and damaged a church in the eastern Congo border city.
Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said nearly a dozen mortar shells hit different parts of Goma on Thursday. In addition to the killing of the family of four, nearly a dozen others were wounded, he said.
Congo maintains that most of the mortar fire came from the direction of neighboring Rwanda. Mende said the government is waiting for Rwanda to explain "these particularly serious facts."
One witness, Clement Sale, told The Associated Press that two of his nieces — ages 16 and 17 — were wounded, one seriously, when a mortar round fell on their house. One missile punched huge holes in the wall of an Anglican church in Goma.
Congo's government said Friday it had killed 17 rebels in the recent fighting.
The attack erupted as the United Nations deployed a new "intervention brigade" which is authorized to battle the rebel forces operating in eastern Congo. The new unit has more aggressive rules of engagement than normally used by U.N. peacekeeping forces. The U.N. force is made up of troops from Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa.
South Africa announced Friday it had deployed 1,345 troops. South African President Jacob Zuma said the troops would remain in Congo over the next seven months as authorized by the U.N. Security Council in March.
The $40 million deployment started on June 13 and ends March 31, 2014, Zuma's office said. South African soldiers comprise about half of the troops in the brigade.
A spokesman for the Malawian army, Lt. Tawene Kalua, said his country will contribute at least 850 soldiers toward the brigade.
Siphiwe Dlamini, a South African military spokesman, said his country's troops had not joined in the fighting around Goma, based on information he received Friday morning.
"We're working closely with the Tanzanians and none of our troops have been anywhere near engagement," he said in a telephone interview in South Africa. "The fighting is taking place not far from where we are."
A U.N. expert panel reported in June that Rwanda's support for M23 had declined in recent months, but Human Rights Watch said the rebels still receive training and supplies and was able to recruit in Rwanda. Rwanda has denied aiding the rebels.
Mineral-rich eastern Congo has been bloodied by fighting by various rebel groups and the Congolese military for years. .
Mwanamilongo reported from Kinshasa, Congo. AP reporters Christopher Torchia in Johannesburg and Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre, Malawi, contributed to this report.