Thousands displaced in Congo’s east amid clashes between army and rebels

People gather in a yard in front of a small church
People fleeing the fighting between M23 forces and the Congolese army find refuge Friday in a church in Kibumba, north of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
(Moses Sawasawa / Associated Press)

Thousands of people in Congo have been displaced in the last week, fleeing ongoing clashes between the Congolese army and rebel fighters.

On Tuesday, a fresh attack by the March 23 Movement, or M23, targeted a Congolese army position in the territory of Rutshuru, just north of the city of Goma in eastern Congo.
Authorities confirmed the attack but did not provide details. Residents told the Associated Press that they saw gunfights and dead bodies.

Residents from six villages in the country’s east have fled the violence. At least 2,000 people are now living in improvised shelters, in churches, schools or with host families.


On Friday, the AP interviewed several witnesses who fled to Kibumba near the Rwanda border and found shelter in a church.

“The attack began in Nyesisi, Ngungo, Kanombe. When we were in the field on Wednesday, we heard bullets over the hills and we fled,” said Baseme Mashukano, a resident of Nyesisi, one of the six villages caught in the crossfire. “We abandoned everything and now we are here in Kibumba. We spend the night in the church while others sleep outside. We have nothing to eat, no food, no water or medicine.”

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Another person displaced by the conflict, Sarah Kasigwa, said she lost her three children and husband amid the chaos.

“We saw several dead people,” she said. “We are sleeping here, in this school, on the ground. There is just cement, no blanket. We suffer a lot.”

Tumaini Anouarite, a 32-year-old mother of five, said she saw soldiers firing bullets in the nearby hills and gunfights between the army and M23 fighters.

On Friday, United Nations forces deployed in the area.

The M23, which also calls itself the Revolutionary Army of Congo, is a former rebel group of Congolese backed by Rwanda and Uganda that was defeated in 2013. Since November, it has been accused of being behind several attacks against the army.

The attacks took place near Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its large gorilla population.