Rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are spurring mass evacuations as they advance towards the key city of Goma, according to Reuters.
The capital of the eastern North Kivu province, Goma serves not only as a regional hub but also a beacon for refugees fleeing the M23 rebel group, according to Reuters. Hundreds fled towards the city Friday.
M23 rebels, who in 2013 largely fled to neighboring countries Rwanda and Uganda, are making a comeback in eastern Congo with a fresh offensive. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to have been displaced as the rebels continue their advance through North Kivu, Reuters reported.
Fleeing civilians passed through Sake, a town on the road to Goma, with evacuee Safari Hangi saying without “this war, we would be in our village without any problems, farming and getting on with daily chores,” according to Reuters. Rebels appear to have captured Mushaki, a town 9 miles west of Sake.
“We won’t allow our territories to be under Foreign forces like @eacrf_DRC we will take back our territories that are being controlled by @M23_ARC”
-FARDC’s Chief of Ops Maj Gen Chico Tshitambwe
The war won’t end anytime soon, Kinshasa doesn’t believe in any Peace deal. pic.twitter.com/pVhoHuPAOy
— Robert Cyubahiro McKenna (@RobCyubahiro) February 23, 2023
The Congolese military faces a serious challenge from M23 rebels, whom the Congolese government accuses of committing atrocities on a massive scale and disregarding a previously-negotiated ceasefire, according to Reuters. Lawrence Kanyaka, a spokesperson for M23, told the outlet that threats to civilians instead came from the use of heavy weapons by the Congolese military.
After an apparent withdrawal from Mushaki, Congolese soldiers are operating a checkpoint in Sake, Reuters reported. The town represents one of the few remaining trade links to Goma, where prices for consumer goods are currently skyrocketing. (RELATED: Americans Accused Of Child Trafficking And Abuse Face Death Penalty In Uganda)
The escalation in conflict is gaining international scrutiny, with military leaders on both sides now facing potential American and European Union sanctions, the BBC reported.