Fighting intensifies in east DR CongoMon, 09 Oct 2023 20:20:03 GMT

Clashes have intensified in DR Congo’s east where the national army has deployed in areas it was chased out of at the start of the year, the United Nations and local sources said Monday.After a six-month lull, fighting resumed this month between local armed groups and the M23 rebel movement in North Kivu province, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).At least 20 civilians have been killed and 30 more wounded since “the resurgence of violent clashes” in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), OCHA said.”More than 84,700 people had been forced to flee their homes,” OCHA said, noting access to aid “remained greatly restrained” due to the “intensification of the fighting”.Fighting is centred on areas where an East African force of several thousand deployed in early 2023, in theory to patrol a buffer zone between the armed groups.Kitshanga, a strategic town 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the provincial capital Goma, passed without a fight from East African military control last week to the M23 rebel group, which had chased the army out of the town last January.Residents and a military source on site told AFP by telephone that the rebels had since pulled out and “hundreds of FARDC” national army troops had entered Kitshanga.However, one local inhabitant said, “This evening, fighting resumed after the FARDC arrived.”In New York, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said peacekeepers were “reinforcing their presence in Kitshanga in North Kivu province to protect civilians caught in clashes between the M23 and members of other armed groups.”As a result of the fighting, “approximately 2,000 people have sought refuge within the UN mission base in Kitshanga, and 18,000 men, women and children have taken shelter just outside the base,” Dujarric said.Further south at Kilolirwe, which had also come under M23 control last week, residents said army soldiers had arrived “on foot and with two jeeps” and distributed food to militiamen opposed to the M23.Witnesses said fighting was underway Monday afternoon.The army “respects the ceasefire”, the spokesman for North Kivu’s military governor, lieutenant-colonel Guillaume Ndjike, told AFP.The main armed groups operating in the province had met in Goma at the end of September and declared themselves ready to lay down arms.Within days, coordinated attacks were launched on villages in Masisi and Rutshuru territory.M23 rebels, backed by Rwanda, have captured swathes of North Kivu, displacing more than a million people since re-emerging to launch an offensive in late 2021.Dozens of armed groups are active in eastern DRC, a legacy of regional wars that raged in the 1990s and 2000s.