A special UN force in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo used helicopters Wednesday to fire on Ugandan rebels and help government troops retake the town of Kamango after an attack that killed civilians.
"South African helicopters in the UN intervention force were asked by FARDC (the DR Congo army) to give them support to recapture Kamango," said a senior officer with the UN mission to DR Congo (MONUSCO) who declined to be identified by name.
"We have already taken back Kamango," said Lieutenant-Colonel Olivier Amuli, a FARDC army spokesman in North-Kivu province, the mineral-rich but volatile region plagued by a number of armed groups.
Amuli admitted that at the time of the attack on Kamango the Congolese forces "withdrew because they were outnumbered".
The rebel attack took place before dawn, said Teddy Kataliko, head of the civil society in the Beni region where Kamango is located.
The civil organisation blamed the initial attack on the Islamist Ugandan rebel group ADF-Nalu in collaboration with Uganda's army. It is one of the oldest but least-known armed groups based in eastern DR Congo.
"We have 10 people kidnapped, 11 civilians and five soldiers wounded, and several civilians killed, as well as homes burned, by the attackers," Kataliko earlier told AFP.
The officer from Monusco also confirmed the retaking of Kamango by government troops saying "apparently the demonstration of force and the involvement of South African Rooivacks intimidated the ADF-Nalu."
Kataliko said the rebels were "now heading towards the town of Nobili," on the Congolese-Ugandan border, where more than 150,000 people have taken refuge from the fighting.
"We believe there is the risk of a massacre and that's why we are asking to establish a humanitarian corridor," he said, making an appeal to the government to come to the aid of those people.
Kataliko also said that those fleeing the fighting would not be able to cross the border into Uganda, which was closed.
ADF-Nalu stands for Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda and is considered the only Islamist organisation in the region.
In July the Congolese army battled the ADF-Nalu rebels to take control of the Kamango region, but the fighting had sent tens of thousands of people fleeing for safety in neighbouring Uganda.
MONUSCO reported that at least 21 people were killed last week with "extreme brutality" in the Beni region. The UN did not identify the assailants but again local civil groups pointed to the Ugandan rebels.
The rebels are led by Jamil Mukulu, a Christian convert to Islam, and has never really managed to take its fight against President Yoweri Museveni's regime to Uganda.
Some observers have voiced concern that ADF-Nalu could become a link in the growing network of radical Islamist groups in East Africa.
MONUSCO's mission in DR Congo includes a 3,000-strong UN intervention brigade made up of troops from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi, specially authorised to go after armed groups ravaging DR Congo. There are another 17,000 peacekeepers mobilised in the overall mission.
The mission helped bring down the M23 rebel movement last month, which was suspected of receiving support from Rwanda and Uganda, something both countries deny.