DRC: Continuing fighting in the east, cry of alarm from humanitarians

Civilians under bombs, displaced by the thousands, lost children… Humanitarian organizations present in the Democratic Republic of Congo are sounding the alarm over the escalation of the conflict in the east of the country, where fighting continued on Thursday.

In North Kivu in particular, an intensification of fighting has been noted in the conflict which for more than two years has pitted the M23 rebels, supported by neighboring Rwanda, against the Congolese armed forces (FARDC), associated in particular with armed groups known as “patriots” (“wazalendo”).

These last weeks, “Increasing civilian casualties and the use of heavy weapons in populated areas, including in camps for internally displaced persons, are alarming”warns the Forum of International NGOs in the DRC (FONGI-RDC).

“The conflict has triggered massive displacements to several localities, exacerbating the vulnerability of internally displaced people and host communities”adds the Forum in a press release. “The situation requires urgent action to protect civilians and ensure humanitarian access”he said.

150,000 people on the roads

According to the NGO Save the Children, the resumption of fighting between the FARDC and the M23 has caused since February 2 “the displacement of at least 150,000 people, more than half of whom are children”.

In flight, many of these children “were separated from their parents”she adds.

The DRC has a total of some 7 million internally displaced people, mainly in the East, a region plagued by violence by armed groups for almost 30 years.

“We are in danger”

The NGO Médecins sans Frontières, for its part, indicates that the medical structures it supports in North Kivu “have received in recent days a massive influx of war wounded”, when “thousands of people are fleeing the latest waves of armed clashes”.

On Wednesday, thousands of displaced people arrived in Goma, fleeing the fighting around Sake, a town located about twenty km west of the provincial capital of North Kivu. At least six civilians were killed and dozens of others injured.

“We saw children, pregnant women, the elderly and other vulnerable people arriving, out of breath, coming with nothing,” testifies Jacinthe Maarifa, program manager for the NGO “Global and inclusive action for the development of the DRC (AGIR-RDC)”, which welcomed these new displaced people as best they could.

“They are crowded into schools and churches, the needs are enormous,” he told AFP, appealing for help.

According to residents interviewed by telephone, fighting was still ongoing Thursday in the Sake region.

Others were reported north of Goma, in Nyiragongo territory, opposing the M23 mainly to the “wazalendo” and cutting off road traffic to the north.

“We woke up to the detonations of heavy weapons and we remain holed up in our homes,” indicated a resident of the village of Rwibiranga. “The situation remains confused and we are in danger,” he said.

A motorcycle taxi driver who was going with his client to Rutshuru claims to have been forced to turn around: “The soldiers stopped us from passing through, saying that fighting is underway.”

Visiting the DRC, the head of UN peace operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, spoke on Wednesday of a risk of “regional explosion” and called for an urgent resumption of “diplomatic efforts” to resolve the crisis.

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