Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

As the M23 rebels initiated a new offensive, pushing northward towards the town of Bambo, situated north of Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a state of fear and chaos enveloped the area. Terrified residents, including men, women, and children, hastily departed their homes, carrying whatever belongings they could salvage.

The M23 rebels launched their offensive in eastern DR Congo on October 26, witnessed by an AFP team. This offensive comes in the midst of ongoing clashes with pro-government armed groups further south.

The M23, which has seized control of extensive territories in North Kivu province since 2021, is just one of several militias asserting authority over the region, despite the presence of peacekeeping forces.

The situation escalated when, on the evening of October 25, mortar fire and the sound of automatic weapons reverberated from the southern outskirts of Bambo, a town located around 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Goma.

By midday on October 26, shells began raining down on the town center, triggering a frantic exodus of thousands of terrified residents. With uncertainty and fear gripping the area, a security source reported, “We are in Bambo, which has just fallen. We are continuing to fight, but there are lots of rebels in the city.”

The ensuing chaos saw hundreds of soldiers, police officers, and militiamen join the civilian population in their desperate attempt to escape the conflict. Dusabe Ngurikiye, a 37-year-old resident who fled the town, expressed her distress, saying, “I don’t know where my husband and seven children are… When the bombs fell on the city, everyone fled in different directions. We don’t know where we’re going now or where we’re going to sleep.”

Later in the afternoon, medical personnel contacted via telephone reported taking shelter in Bambo hospital, with the sounds of explosions serving as a grim backdrop.

The intensification of conflict between the M23 and government-backed militias has focused primarily around Goma, the capital of North Kivu and home to more than a million people. The United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA has reported that nearly 200,000 individuals have been displaced from their homes since October 1, particularly in the Rutshuru and Masisi territories north of Goma.

Independent UN experts, the government in Kinshasa, and several Western nations, including the United States and France, have accused Rwanda of supporting the Tutsi-led M23—an allegation that Kigali vehemently denies.

Bambo fell under the control of the M23 in November 2022, and the nearby village of Kishishe bore witness to the alleged massacre of 171 civilians by the rebel group. The M23 had subsequently withdrawn, maintaining a presence approximately 20 kilometers away.

Further south, fighting that erupted on Tuesday near Kibumba, some 20 kilometers from Goma, persisted through Thursday, according to reports from civilian and security sources.

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