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M23 Rebels Expand Control in DR Congo, Prompting Mass Displacement

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Amid ongoing clashes in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), M23 rebels have made significant territorial gains, exacerbating the displacement crisis in the region. The conflict, which entered its third day on Thursday, has forced a growing number of civilians to flee their homes, according to local residents and officials.

The United Nations reported a staggering figure of “more than 100,000” people displaced this week alone, with the majority originating from the vicinity of Nyanzale in North Kivu province. Nyanzale, which was home to approximately 80,000 residents along with tens of thousands who had previously fled conflict, has witnessed a surge in displacement amidst the ongoing violence.

In their advance, the Tutsi-led M23 rebels seized control of Kibirizi, situated approximately 30 kilometers (18 miles) northeast of Nyanzale. Reports indicate that the capture followed intense clashes between the rebels, government forces, and pro-government militias. Militia officials confirmed the presence of the enemy forces in Kibirizi, emphasizing the ongoing struggle against them alongside the army.

As violence escalates, local populations are fleeing en masse, primarily heading northwards away from the conflict zones. Gervais Kambale, a resident from Kanyayonga, noted the unprecedented scale of displacement, with displaced individuals arriving in large numbers throughout the week. The influx has prompted makeshift arrangements to accommodate the displaced, with Kambale mentioning the establishment of ten reception sites. However, he highlighted the lack of organized assistance for those affected, leaving many to endure hardships without adequate support.

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The M23, known formally as the March 23 Movement, initiated their offensive on Monday, targeting multiple towns situated 70 kilometers from the provincial capital, Goma. The rebel group’s expansion extends further north into the Rutshuru and Masisi areas, with sporadic clashes reported in Sake, approximately 20 kilometers west of Goma.

Tragically, civilian casualties have been reported, with at least 15 individuals, including children, killed in shelling attacks on inhabited areas in Nyanzale on Monday. The resumption of M23 activities comes after eight years of dormancy, during which the rebel movement re-emerged in late 2021, seizing control of significant portions of North Kivu. This resurgence effectively cut off all land access to Goma, except via the Rwandan border road.

Allegations of support for the M23 rebellion by neighboring Rwanda persist, despite denials from Kigali. The conflict adds to the already dire humanitarian situation in DR Congo, with the United Nations estimating nearly seven million people displaced nationwide, including 2.5 million in North Kivu alone, by the end of 2023.

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