"Despite the risks, the villagers cross the frontlines to go fetch food in their fields"
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.