DR Congo

DR Congo: North Kivu - Testimonies from Goma, amid war and chaos

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"It is the worst atmosphere in three years. There is general chaos with reports of fighting, mass movements of people fleeing and a dangerous confusion", said a MISNA source contacted today in Goma, in describing the situation in the capital of North Kivu, the strife-ridden eastern province of the Democratic Republic of Congo for months theatre to an armed confrontation between the Congolese army and rebels of the CNDP (National Congress for the Defence of the People) loyal to the pro-Rwandan renegade general Laurent Nkunda. "The situation is extremely tense. Based on our information, heavy fighting is underway since this morning around the town of Rutshuru. According to latest reports, Nkunda's men are gaining grounds on the government troops and have already entered the outskirts of the town. A MONUC base (United Nations mission in DR-Congo) is also located in Kiwanza (a neighbourhood in the outskirts of Rutshuru) and we don't know how they will react", said the MISNA source, specifying that thousands of civilians are fleeing from the area, divided in two different groups: "some are headed north, while others are moving in direction of Goma". Reports received by MISNA confirm that the CNDP rebels have divided in two columns: while one is combating to seize control of Rutshuru (strategic territory and crossing toward the border with Uganda and Rwanda) and the surrounding area, the other column is moving south toward Goma. Fighting is in fact also underway in the Kikumba area, around 20km north of Goma, along the road that takes to Rutshuru, some 50km more to the north. "The rebels are advancing on the Congolese troops that are retreating from many of their posts", added another MISNA source, well-informed on the military developments on the ground, who deems highly probable that foreign reinforcements are backing the CNDP, incapable in clashes of the past months of gaining so much ground. "The soldiers also retreated four of six tanks sent to the frontline, with some army units actually breaking up. Since yesterday soldiers in uniform can be seen fleeing on foot with their families, carrying pots and mattresses", added the source. No official or unofficial death toll of the recent fighting is so far available. "We can't count the living, never mind the dead", said an aid worker who requested anonymity, however confirming that since the weekend tens of thousands of people (maybe over 100,000) are fleeing the violence. "It is impossible even to attempt an estimate. Many of these civilians had already fled in the past weeks, and the fighting is hindering movement and any verification of the numbers", said to MISNA a source of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in commenting a radio statement made by North Kivu's governor, speaking of "more than 2-million displaced in the province", a number deemed excessive also by other aid sources indicating 1.3-million people at most. Adding to the already complex situation, reports also emerged in the past hours of the resignation of the Spanish General as Force Commander of MONUC (UN Mission peacekeeping mission in DR-Congo). "MONUC is paralysed, all meetings were cancelled today and their vehicles are not circulating to avoid tension with the population that also today continues protesting against the immobility of the peacekeepers and international community", said a MISNA source in Goma. Tension flared further between residents and MONUC after an armed response of the peacekeepers to break up a demonstration yesterday in the capital of North Kivu against the local mission offices. According to well-informed sources, the UN forces opened fire to disperse a crowd throwing stones against the base, killing at least two civilians (some speak of a third victim) and a Congolese soldier. Unconfirmed reports also indicate the death of two UN peacekeepers: one hit in the head by a stone and the other lynched by the angry mob.