Renewed Congo violence triggers new wave of refugees

 
The North Kivu province in northeastern DR Congo was recently the scene of renewed conflict -- between the army and armed militias, and within the militia groups themselves. As always, civilians are the main victims of such power struggles. Hundreds have fled their homes for UN refugee camps and other towns in the region.
 
The situation around Goma is chaotic. Two rival factions from the March 23 Movement (known as M23) clashed on February 26 in Rutshuru, revealing a power struggle between two M23 warlords. Since December, the rebel group has been in negotiations with the Congolese government to end the conflict in the east.
 
 
Violent clashes unrelated to the M23 rebels have also taken place south of Goma. According to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (also known as Monusco), conflict between the Patriotic Alliance for a Free and Sovereign Congo (an armed militia of Maï-Maï dissidents) and the Congolese army has led to civilian deaths and injuries. To date, around 3,000 people have fled the violence.
 
Monusco has expressed serious concern for the region’s population. On March 5, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called for the Security Council to send a special brigade of 2,500 men to improve security in the region of North Kivu.
 
The Monusco camp, north of Goma. All photos and videos by ur Observer Charly Kasereka.
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“I took a picture of an M23 rebel giving himself up to Monusco”

Charly Kasereka is a journalist for a local radio station in Goma.
 
I saw hundreds of people, many parents with their children, arriving in the Monusco camp, which is 8 kilometres north of Goma. Most were coming from Rutshuru. Some were arriving atop overcrowded trucks. They feared new violence between the M23 rival factions.
 
 
I get the feeling that Monusco wants to show that it will oppose the return of M23 rebels in this area. They are strengthening their presence in the hills around the city [ when M23 rebels briefly took over Goma in November 2012, Monusco was severely criticized for its inability to have stopped the advance of the rebel group]. The rebels and the peacekeepers are eyeing each other warily, but there hasn’t been any fighting. An example of the UN’s strengthened resolve is that, when the rebels left the town of Kanyarushinya on Thursday, Monusco peacekeepers took over the area to prevent them from returning.
 
Children help the peacekeepers put rocks on the road to create a checkpoint.
 
The people I talked to are very surprised by the behavior of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC). For example, they don’t understand why the troops left Rutshuru a mere 24 hours after having taken back control. When they went to bed that evening, the residents of Rutshuru were under the protection of the FARDC, and when they got up the next day, the M23 rebels were back in control!
 
Nonetheless, there are some M23 rebels giving themselves up to Monusco. I took a picture of one of them when he went to give his weapon to the UN forces from India and South Africa that are based in Goma.
 
 
In Goma, most people don’t believe the M23 rebels will come back: the movement appears disorganized and weakened by its internal conflicts. But the situation is very worrisome from a humanitarian point of view. [Editor’s Note: Our Observer told us on Thursday that since he visited the refugees at the Monusco camp, many of them have moved to the nearby town of Kanyarutshunya].
 
 
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron).

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