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Congo rebels, army clash at Goma’s edge

GOMA, Congo — Rebels believed to be backed by Rwanda fired mortars and machine guns Monday on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Goma, threatening to capture one of the largest cities in eastern Congo in a development that could drag this Central African nation back into war.

The gunfire and explosions erupted in the early afternoon, with shells landing as far away as the international airport and near a United Nations position, causing flights to be rerouted and prompting the United Nations to evacuate most of its employees, according to UN officials.

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The violence erupted just hours after the M23 rebels said they were halting fighting to negotiate with the government of Congo. But government spokesman Lambert Mende said by phone that negotiations are out of the question, saying Congo will not give in to the ‘‘blackmail’’ of a Rwandan-backed group.

‘‘We refuse to enter into negotiations with M23. Because it’s Rwanda, not the M23, that is responsible,’’ said Mende.

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