June 2, 2015 / 9:30 AM / 2 years ago

Gunmen attack airport in eastern Congo, seven dead

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Gunmen attacked the airport in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s largest city, Goma, in an overnight raid in which four government soldiers and three suspected assailants were killed, a local official and a witness said on Tuesday.

A Congolese security official involved in the clashes and a Goma-based diplomat said the assailants were Mai-Mai fighters, members of one of the dozens of armed militias that control large parts of Congo’s mineral-rich eastern borderlands.

Residents of Goma, home to around 1 million people and capital of Congo’s volatile North Kivu province, said they heard intermittent heavy gunfire for several hours beginning around 1 a.m. on Tuesday (1900 ET, Monday).

“They attacked the depot at the airport. There was a heavy exchange of gunfire,” North Kivu governor Julien Paluku told Reuters, referring to the attackers only as “bandits”.

Paluku said soldiers from the Congolese army’s elite Republican Guard repelled the attack and pursued the assailants from the airport, which lies on the edge of the city, into the city center where the shooting continued.

A Reuters witness saw the bodies of four Republican Guard soldiers at the airport along with those of three alleged assailants. Two of the government soldiers had their throats slit, while the two others had been shot.

The witness also saw four men, dressed in Congolese army shirts but wearing civilian trousers, that army officials at the airport said had been taken prisoner during the clashes.

The security official, who asked not to be named, said that in addition to the four soldiers killed, another six were seriously wounded, adding that the army had taken 10 prisoners during the fighting.

Governor Paluku had earlier confirmed that one soldier was killed in the raid.

A second witness said there was no visible damage to the airport terminal itself and planes were continuing to use the runway, though sporadic bursts of gunfire could still be heard throughout the morning.

Reporting by Aaron Ross and Kenny Katombe; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by James Macharia and Gareth Jones

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