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East DR Congo clashes displace 37,000 people

KINSHASA (AFP) – Recent clashes between the military and M23 rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have displaced 37,000 people, two NGOs said yesterday.

In a joint statement, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said people in dire need of aid are fleeing fighting that erupted last Sunday in Rutshuru territory in North Kivu province.

Clashes between the army and M23, a primarily Congolese Tutsi group, have since spread close to the provincial capital Goma.

M23 briefly seized the city in late 2012 before the army quelled the rebellion the following year.

But the militia resumed fighting this year, accusing the Congolese government of failing to respect a 2009 agreement under which its fighters were to be incorporated into the army.

NRC’s DR Congo Director Caitlin Brady said the latest violence had forced thousands of families to flee and more were reported to be on their way.

People walk on the road as they flee fighting between Congolese forces and M23 rebels in North Kivu. PHOTO: AP

“This new escalation of violence is threatening the humanitarian community’s capacity to provide timely support in a region where 1.9 million people have already been displaced,” she said.

According to the NGOs, about 26,000 people have fled Rutshuru territory since May 22. Another 11,000 fled Nyiragongo territory, another area of North Kivu which has recently seen clashes, since May 24.

Some displaced families have taken shelter in churches and schools in Goma and urgently need assistance, the NRC and IRC warned.

The DRC, a vast nation of 90 million people, has accused neighbouring Rwanda of backing M23, an accusation that Rwanda denies.

More than 120 armed groups roam volatile eastern DRC, many of which are a legacy of regional wars more than two decades ago.