Two Mi-24 attack helicopters flown by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC’s) military have crashed.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende told Reuters it was not clear what brought down the helicopters on Friday in North Kivu province near the borders with Rwanda and Uganda.
Over the weekend, UN-sponsored Radio Okapi cited military sources as saying that the helicopters crashed while pursuing fighters from the former Congolese rebel group M23. An army spokesman declined to comment.
Other sources suggest the aircraft came down in bad weather. Military analyst Darren Olivier said both helicopters came to rest 500 metres apart on the slopes of Mount Mikeno. Two South African Air Force Rooivalk attack helicopters were used to provide close air support while an Oryx hoisted crewmembers aboard with another providing support, according to Olivier.
Some reports suggest four crewmembers were killed and three to five occupants were rescued and taken to hospital in Goma. Radio Okapi reported that five crew members – three Russians and two Congolese officers – were rescued and brought to hospital.
The South African Air Force provides Rooivalk and Oryx helicopters to the United Nations mission in the DRC (Monusco), which regularly supports Congolese armed forces (FARDC) operations.
Reports of a possible M23 revival by former fighters held in camps in Uganda and Rwanda have surged in recent weeks. On Monday, Rwanda’s defence ministry said in a statement that a group of about 30 unarmed people claiming to be M23 and fleeing combat with Congo’s army crossed the border at the weekend.
Earlier this month, Uganda’s government said it had detained more than 100 former M23 rebels trying to return to Congo from camps in Uganda where they have been awaiting amnesties. Congo said the fighters had encroached onto Congolese territory.
Millions died in regional conflicts in eastern Congo between 1996-2003, most from hunger and disease, and dozens of armed groups continue to fight over natural resources and prey on the civilian population.