A rebel group in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has split into rival factions, which engaged in their second day of fighting Friday. An aid worker says many civilians are caught in the crossfire.
The rebel movement M23, which three months ago routed government forces at Goma, now seems to be imploding.
Heavy fighting broke out on Thursday after the movement’s military leader Colonel Sultani Makenga announced that its political coordinator, Jean-Marie Runiga, had been sacked.
Both factions have pulled their forces back towards the Ugandan and Rwandan borders, allowing other armed groups to fill the vacuum, and are concentrating on fighting each other.
Imane Cherif, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, says there’s been fighting at Kibumba, which is 25 kilometers north of Goma, and at Runyoni, 30 kilometers further north, on the Ugandan border, the epicenters of the violence that people are trying to escape. Cherif says it’s clear that civilians are finding themselves caught in crossfire and getting to safety is their main concern at the moment.
FILE - M23 rebel leader Bishop Jean-Marie Runiga, addressing a press conference, Bunagana, Congo, Jan. 3, 2013.
One of the faction leaders Jean-Marie Runiga is thought to be at Kibumba with the man who launched the M23 rebellion, Jean Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for recruiting and using child soldiers.
The leader of the other faction, led by Makenga, is believed to be at Bunagana, near Runyoni. There were reports that the fighting on Thursday started after Makenga sent troops to arrest Ntaganda, who retaliated by launching an attack on Makenga’s base, which was repulsed with many killed.
But civilians are also fleeing from the north of Rutshuru territory, where other armed groups have moved in to the fill the gap left by the M23.
The U.N.’s Cherif says civilians are moving east away from Rutshuru Center and towards Nyamilima, Kyehero and Uganda. She says there have also been movements in the past 48 hours towards Bunagana, Jomba and Bweza as people try to escape the fighting between M23 factions.
Local media report that the Rwandan Hutu rebel group FDLR, or the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, has occupied central Rutshuru, along with a Congolese Hutu militia, the Nyatura.
A resident of Rutshuru told VOA that people there are afraid there may be fighting between the Nyatura and another local Congolese militia, the Mai Mai Shetani.
As for the M23, their days are looking numbered - Bosco Ntaganda is cornered and fighting for survival. He knows if the movement makes peace with the government he may be headed for the Hague.