Fighting in DR Congo after rebels reject calls to end offensive

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Fighting erupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday after rebels defiantly rejected international calls to pull out of the strategic city of Goma and end an offensive that has stoked fears of a wider conflict and humanitarian catastrophe.
As reports about renewed violence in the country’s volatile east poured in President Joseph Kabila sacked the chief of land forces over UN accusations he runs a huge arms smuggling network supplying Congolese rebels and other groups, a spokesman said.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende said the dismissal was temporary, pending a “thorough investigation”.
General Gabriel Amisi’s sacking came two days after the regular FARDC forces suffered a humiliating setback when the M23 rebel group drove them out of the main eastern city of Goma.
A report by the UN Group of Experts on the DRC accuses Amisi of overseeing a network that provides arms and ammunitions to poachers and armed groups, including some with links to the M23.
The M23 rebel group’s political leader insisted it would not withdraw from Goma, which the fighters captured easily despite the presence of UN peacekeepers, unless Kabila agrees to peace talks.
“There must first be a dialogue with President Kabila,” Bishop Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero told AFP by telephone, before heading to Uganda where he was summoned for urgent talks with President Yoweri Museveni.
The Ugandan leader had issued a joint call with Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame at emergency talks in Kampala Wednesday for the rebels to withdraw and is due to hold a regional summit on the crisis on Saturday.
A UN report has accused both Uganda and Rwanda of backing the M23, claims both countries strongly deny.
International alarm about the unrest in the war-blighted central African nation has mounted since the mainly ethnic Tutsi rebels on Tuesday overran Goma, the main city
in the mineral-rich North Kivu region on the shores of Lake
Kivu.
Fighting flared Thursday around the town of Sake a day after it was captured by the advancing rebels, causing thousands of people to flee, many carrying mattresses on their heads, an AFP photographer said.
Explosions from shells and mortar bombs and the rattle of automatic machine-gun fire could be heard as plumes of smoke billowed into the sky over Sake, which lies about 30 kilometres northwest of Goma.