Fresh clashes have broken out in eastern DRC between the army and M23 rebels, officials said on Sunday, breaking a period of relative calm between the two sides.
The M23, a predominantly Congolese Tutsi group, resumed fighting in late 2021 after years of lying dormant. It has since seized large parts of territory in North Kivu province, including the strategic town of Bunagana on the Uganda border in June.
The group’s resurgence has destabilized regional ties in central Africa, with the DRC accusing its smaller neighbor Rwanda of backing the militia.
The front line between Congolese troops and M23 rebels had been quiet for the past few weeks. But on Thursday there were clashes again, the violence monitor Kivu Security Tracker said on Saturday evening.
On Sunday, army officials and local residents said M23 fighters had taken the village of Ntamugenga in North Kivu’s Rutshuru region, a strategic target that lies near the highway leading north from the provincial capital Goma.
“The situation here is grim,” said village chief Celestin Nyamugira, explaining that M23 fighters had set up a barricade at the entrance to the settlement. “They came out of the forest and infiltrated the city.”
Congolese Colonel Mavinga Serge confirmed to AFP the capture of the village but said troops were “next door”.
Another officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ndjike Kaiko, said the army “locked in” the rebels.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) tweeted that 500 people had taken refuge at a monastery in Ntamugenga, including some wounded, and called for the creation of a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians.
MSF’s emergency coordinator in Rutshuru, Benedicte Lecoq, told AFP she was “very concerned” about the humanitarian situation in Ntamugenga, explaining that the village was hit by bombs from morning to afternoon.
The M23 first came to prominence in 2012 when it briefly took Goma before being driven out by a joint Congolese and UN offensive.
The militia is just one of numerous armed groups roaming eastern DRC, many of which are the legacy of two regional wars that broke out at the end of the last century.
Despite official denials from Kigali, an unpublished report for the United Nations submitted to AFP in August indicated Rwanda’s involvement in the M23.
The official death toll from the recent clashes remains unclear. Kivu Security Tracker said at least two civilians were killed and a dozen injured in the recent clashes.
Medical officials at Rutshuru Hospital said four civilians were killed and eight injured on Friday and Saturday.
On Sunday, Ntamugenga Hospital chief John Sebatware said five soldiers and one civilian had been killed and 33 people injured.
According to the United Nations human rights organization OCHA, at least 23,000 people have fled the clashes since Thursday.