February 27, 2023 By Justin Kabumba, The Associated Press
GOMA, Congo (AP) — A United Nations helicopter came under heavy fire in eastern Congo, bringing the mission to suspend flights in the conflict-riddled region, the organization said Monday.
A helicopter returning from Walikale to the regional capital, Goma in North Kivu province, came under attack for 10 minutes last week but was able to land safely in Goma with all three crew and 10 passengers unharmed, said a statement by the U.N.’s World Food Program.
Flights have been suspended on specific routes in the region until the security situation can be reassessed, said the U.N. The helicopter delivers assistance to some of Congo’s most remote areas which would otherwise be inaccessible because of poor roads or insecurity.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but this is the second time this month that a U.N. helicopter came under fire in North Kivu province. The previous incident was a helicopter with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, and killed a South African peacekeeper and injured another. The United Nations Security Council said the deliberate targeting of peacekeepers could constitute war crimes.
Fighting in eastern Congo has been simmering for decades as more than 120 groups fight for power, land and valuable mineral resources — while others try to defend their communities. The violence spiked in late 2021 when M23 rebels, which had been largely dormant for nearly a decade, resurfaced and started capturing territory.
The fighting has internally displaced more than 5 million people, threatening many civilians with starvation, according to several aid groups.
“For armed groups seeking to force civilians under their control, firing at aircraft may prove an easy way to suspend aid deliveries and influence food supplies into an area,” said Benjamin Hunter, Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a risk intelligence firm.