GOMA, DR Congo - Fighting resumed Friday between the army and rebels in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, both sides and the United Nations said, just days after the latest effort at peace talks fell apart.
Clashes took place some 25 kilometres (16 miles) to the north of Goma, a strategic city of one million people in the mineral-rich but volatile east, rebel spokesman Vianney Kazarama told AFP.
Each side accused the other of starting the fresh outbreak of fighting.
"The army attacked our positions at 4:00 am (0200 GMT)," insisted Kazarama. But Olivier Hamuli, spokesman for the army in the flashpoint province of North Kivu, said: "They attacked us."
A source from the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MONUSCO, said the rebels carried out the first attack.
"Fighting is ongoing. These are not skirmishes," said the source, who did not wish to be named.
UN soldiers have gone into action alongside Kinshasa's troops, according to an officer in the regular army. "We are supporting (them) with part" of a UN intervention brigade, the MONUSCO source confirmed.
"Helicopters are ready to lend support if necessary," the source added. "We saw UN helicopters. They were flying over Kibumba," an M23 stronghold under attack, a local human rights activist said, adding that civilians in the region were fleeing towards the border with Rwanda.
The UN Security Council in March approved the deployment of a special African force of up to some 3,000 troops, under MONUSCO command and led by a Tanzanian general, with an unprecedented offensive mandate to target rebel groups in DR Congo.
There were no immediate reports of casualties, but the MONUSCO officer said that shells had landed on Rwanda. He could not say where they came from, since both warring sides were close to the frontier.
The Rwandan army said that three shells had fallen on its territory, injuring a civilian, and accused Kinshasa's troops of "having targeted innocent civilians in Rwanda and fleeing Congolese refugees".
At midday, a MONUSCO officer said "things have calmed down a little".
The permanent secretary in Rwanda's ministry of refugee affairs, Antoine Ruvebana,said that between 2,500 and 3,000 people had fled into the country via two border posts, while an indeterminate number of displaced persons remained in DR Congo.
'Sabotage of the peace process'
On Monday, the rival sides both announced a halt to peace talks taking place in the Ugandan capital Kampala despite UN pressure to end the year-and-a-half-old rebellion ravaging eastern DR Congo.
According to the Congolese government, the talks were suspended due to disagreement over the extent of an amnesty for the army mutineers and their reintegration into the national army.
Backed by the international community, DR Congo's government is refusing to give amnesty to about 80 leaders of the M23 rebels and to enlist these men into military ranks.
In a statement Friday, M23's political spokesman Amani Kabasha accused the Kinshasa government of carrying out a "wholesale sabotage of the peace process in Kampala".
Members of the M23 group are mainly Tutsi fighters from an earlier rebellion who were incorporated into the army in 2009 and then mutinied in 2012, claiming that Kinshasa had failed to keep its part of a peace deal.
The rebels took control of Goma, capital of North Kivu province, for more than a week late last year before withdrawing under international pressure.
Kinshasa has long accused Rwanda of pulling the strings behind the rebellion and UN experts have even said that the M23's "de facto chain of command" was topped by Rwanda's defence minister.
The human rights activist said that at Kabagana, close by the Rwandan border, he saw Rwandan troops "coming in... to reinforce the M23".
Kigali has vehemently denied accusations that it is arming, financing the rebels - and even supporting them with its own forces.