GOMA, DRC — A third day of fighting between the government army and rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has caused several civilian deaths in the city of Goma. Rockets and artillery shells have been landing in Goma just a day before the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due to visit the city.
Since early on Wednesday there have been sporadic explosions in the Ndosho section of Goma. Since the M23 rebels are a few kilometers north of Ndosho and have been firing artillery in a southerly direction, it seems likely the exploding shells were fired by them.
The fighting on Wednesday appears to have been largely an artillery duel, with both sides firing mortars and rockets, but neither side engaging in close combat.
A spokesman for the rebels, Vianney Kazarama, said the army had been firing at their positions since 6 a.m.
A government soldier told VOA the rebels had failed to take their objectives on Tuesday and now were just trying to scare civilians by firing off occasional rockets and mortar rounds.
Some civilians have been leaving the area. One of them, Antoine Matabishi, who was carrying away a mattress,said artillery rounds had been falling on the neighborhood every hour or so. He said he is leaving because an artillery round landed on a house nearby and killed two children.
The house where the shell had landed was about a hundred meters away and already was being repaired, though neighbors said there was a still a corpse inside. The body of a 13-year-old boy was lying under a sheet in the front room. The boy had suffered a massive head wound.
A neighbor, Alain Pitchen, described what had happened. He said the boy was sitting at a table outside the house having a meal when the shell landed and exploded, and you could still see his meal there. The parents took another of their children, a 3-year-old who was wounded, to the hospital, but Pitchen said that boy also died.
Another neighbor, Hubert Masombo, said he had no doubt about where the artillery round came from. He said the bomb was fired by the M23 rebels. He went on to say the Congo has suffered from wars for too long, and he had a message for the UN's Ban.
He said he hoped that all of the countries in the world would help to end the DRC’s wars.
There were several other civilian casualties Wednesday in Goma, also from artillery round explosions in the Ndosho neighborhood.
The United Nations security chief in Goma said there is a risk of the secretary general’s visit being canceled, but said that Ban wants it to proceed.