Thousands displaced as M23 rebels near key DRC city of Goma

 As many have been forced to flee their homes in the dangerous east of the nation as a result of fighting between the M23 and the DRC army, a humanitarian disaster is emerging.

An army spokesperson said that combat between government forces and the M23 rebel group had pushed closer to the strategic city of Goma, displacing thousands of residents in the volatile eastern area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Since the group started their new onslaught on October 20, there has been a relative week of peace in North Kivu province, but fighting has resumed as of Friday.




On Monday, a spokesperson for the North-Kivu army, Guillaume Ndjike, reported that fighting had broken out near the villages of Kibumba, Rugari, and Tongo.

During their initial major uprising in 2012, the M23 briefly seized control of the city of Goma, located approximately 20 kilometers (12 miles) to the south of Kibumba. Ndjike told Reuters, "They are assaulting but we are controlling them and taking steps to push them back."

The army has withdrawn and people are fleeing in large numbers, according to an unnamed Tongo local who spoke with us over the phone. A similar image was drawn by a Kibumba eyewitness.

After more than a day of fierce combat, on Tuesday, Al Jazeera's Malcolm Webb reported from Kibati village, around 15 kilometers (9 miles) from Goma, that the Congolese government troops had initially thwarted M23's onslaught on the town of Kibumba.

As a result, a humanitarian crisis is brewing in the region, where displaced individuals are staying in temporary camps and expressing concern about a lack of food.


Meanwhile, community leaders on the opposite side of the front line told Webb and colleagues that 60,000 people are trapped behind the front line in M23 rebel territory and that they want a humanitarian corridor to be built so that they may evacuate that region before the violence gets closer to them.


The last several days have seen a mass exodus to Kibati, with hundreds of people making the journey.


Since last month, Kibati has established three camps for those who have been relocated within the country. A Reuters journalist has heard that some people have sought shelter in homes that have been left vacant by people who have relocated further south.

Ndazimana Kasigwa, 25, from Rugari, stated, "I left my wife and children behind, I didn't even take clothing."

The UN estimates that at least 188,000 people have been displaced in North Kivu since October 20.

Since being driven into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda in 2013, the M23 has launched a significant resurgence this year in the eastern DRC.

New violence has displaced tens of thousands and strained relations between the DRC and Rwanda, which Kinshasa claims is supporting the Tutsi-led militia. Rwanda insists it is innocent.

According to human rights organizations and military sources, the M23 employs drone monitoring. The United Nations has also reported that the group makes use of modern weaponry, and all signs point to Rwanda supporting the M23.

Military officials in Congo have denied the M23's claims that they are collaborating with other armed factions in the conflict.

President Felix Tshisekedi's call for more than 3,000 more soldiers in the Congo led to the start of training this month.

Efforts are being made at the regional level to defuse tensions between the two countries and put a stop to the fighting taking place along their common border.

Uhuru Kenyatta, the former president of Kenya, was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo this week before peace negotiations with armed groups took place, and he claimed that meetings in Nairobi will be held by the end of the month.

After meeting with a variety of parties on Monday, he made the following statement: "We have not come here with a prescription but rather with the concept of listening to our brothers and sisters and hope to be able to make a contribution towards achieving permanent peace."

Congolese and Rwandan officials had previously met in Luanda for mediated discussions, which were attended by Angolan President Joao Lourenco, who also traveled to both countries over the weekend.

Umaro Sissoco Embalo, President of Guinea-Bissau and Chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), has also visited Kinshasa and Kigali.

Bertrand Bisimwa, one of the M23's top brass, has publicly accused the DRC army of beginning the conflict that his organization is currently engaged in.

He told Reuters over the phone, "They're not accepting responsibility for their idea."

SOURCE:NEWS AGENCIES

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