In photos: DR Congo village caught in the crossfire between soldiers and rebels

 
For several weeks now, residents in dozens of villages in North Kivu, an eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, have been fleeing fighting between the Congolese army and soldiers who have deserted it. However, some of those who live on the frontlines now find themselves caught in the crossfire.
 
The army and the deserters are currently fighting near the town of Rutshuru, near the country’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda. These deserters are former rebels from a group called the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) that had joined the army in 2009, but defected two months ago. They claim that the government reneged on an agreement to fully integrate them into the army, the police and other public institutions. They are now fighting under the banner of the M23, shorthand for “the March 23 movement”.
 
Though the army has repeatedly bombed the M23 rebels, they have managed to hold their positions around Rutshuru, where they’ve been fighting since the end of May.
 
 
According to the United Nations, this fierce fighting has forced over 200,000 residents of the region to flee. The United Nations Organisation Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) sent troops into the region on June 4. Along with the Congolese army, they are now trying to protect those civilians who have stayed in the region.
 
 
 
 
All the photos in this post were taken by our Observer Alain Wandimoyi on Wednesday, June 20. 
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"Despite the risks, the villagers cross the frontlines to go fetch food in their fields"

Alain Wandimoyi is a photographer and blogger who lives in Goma. On Wednesday, he travelled to the combat zones in Rutshuru and notably to the village of Ntamungenga, where some civilians remain stranded.
 
The deserters are based near Ntamungenga. [The M23 fighters are reportedly less than 10 kilometres away from the village]. There are soldiers all over this area and the villagers who haven’t fled find themselves caught in the middle of the fighting.
 
 
 
"The rebels are using the presence of civilians as a 'shield', and have gained an advantage"
 
An army commander told me that for several days now, soldiers have obeyed orders not to counter-attack when the rebels attack. [The French press agency AFP has noted that fighting has been less frequent in the past few days.] He told me that this order was given to spare not only the villagers living in the area but also the gorillas living in the nearby park. [Virunga National Park is one of the oldest parks in Africa. It is home to many protected species, including gorillas]. Under these conditions, the army can’t do much. The rebels are using the presence of civilians as a 'shield', and have gained an advantage. [Last Sunday, the army lost several of their positions to the rebels].
  
 
Local residents cross the frontlines of the fighting to fetch food from their fields.
 
"Many local residents have left their homes to gather together in the centre of the village"
 
Many local residents have left their homes to gather together in the centre of Ntamugenga village. They’ve taken refuge in a schoolhouse. The luckiest among them sleep inside the classrooms, and the others outside. When I visited Ntamugenga, I really felt the villagers’ fear. And at the same time, because the fighting has been going on for several weeks now, they also give the impression that they are going on with their daily lives. What surprised me the most was seeing them cross the frontlines to go fetch food in their fields. They have no other choice but to live with the presence of the army and the UN troops. However, this co-existence isn’t easy. The villagers say the soldiers make problems for them, for example by taking vegetables from their fields without asking. Some soldiers I talked to told me they had no other choice, because the army was ‘starving’ them.
 
 
 
The village's school, where many local residents have taken shelter.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Peggy Bruguière.

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