DR Congo troops clash with M23 rebels, 4 civilians killed
Fresh clashes between the army and M23 rebels have erupted in eastern DR Congo, officials said Sunday, with at least four civilians killed and dozens more wounded in the fighting.
A mostly Congolese Tutsi group, the M23 resumed fighting in late 2021 after lying dormant for years. It has since captured swathes of territory in the Central African country’s North Kivu province, including the strategic town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border in June.
Army officials and residents on Sunday said that M23 fighters had captured the village of Ntamugenga in North Kivu’s Rutshuru area, a strategic target that lies close to the highway leading north out of the provincial capital Goma.
The resurgence of the group has destabilised regional relations in central Africa, with the Democratic Republic of Congo accusing its smaller neighbour Rwanda of backing the militia.
The frontline between Congolese troops and M23 rebels had been calm in recent weeks. But clashes erupted again on Thursday, violence monitor Kivu Security Tracker said late Saturday.
Three civilians were killed and 35 wounded in fighting on the road around Ntamugenga, Congo’s army said, while on another front to the north, one person was killed and another five were wounded.
Congo’s army said Sunday that the situation was under control “on all fronts”.
Congolese Colonel Serge Mavinga had earlier told AFP that troops were “next door” after the village had been captured.
Another officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ndjike Kaiko, said the army was “containing” the rebels.
– Village bombed –
The rebels had erected a barrier at the entrance to Ntamugenga, said village chief Celestin Nyamugira.
“The situation is gloomy here,” Nyamugira said. “They came from the forest and infiltrated the city.”
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) tweeted that 500 people had taken refuge in a convent in the settlement, including some who were wounded, and urged the creation of a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians.
Benedicte Lecoq, MSF’s emergency coordinator for the Rutshuru area, told AFP she was “very worried” about the humanitarian situation in Ntamugenga, explaining that bombs had been striking the village from morning to the afternoon.
The official death toll from clashes earlier this week remains unclear. Kivu Security Tracker on Saturday said at least two civilians had been killed and a dozen wounded.
Medical officials from Rutshuru Hospital also said that four civilians had been killed on Friday and Saturday, with eight wounded.
On Sunday, John Sebatware, head of Ntamugenga hospital, said that five soldiers and one civilian had been killed, with 33 people wounded.
At least 23,000 people have fled the fighting since Thursday, according to the United Nations emergency response agency OCHA.
The M23 first leapt to prominence in 2012 when it briefly captured Goma before a joint Congolese-UN offensive drove it out.
The militia is one of scores of armed groups that roam eastern DRC, many of them a legacy of two regional wars that flared late last century.
Despite official denials from Kigali, an unpublished report for the United Nations seen by AFP in August pointed to Rwandan involvement with the M23.