For the first time in the three-month long uprising in eastern Congo, more civilians are being injured than soldiers—most of whom are reported to be women and children.
While those responsible for the current rebellion in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are largely members of the M23 mutiny, the face of the rebellion is undeniably innocent—for it is now the faces of women and children.
Civilians, mostly women and young ones, make up the majority of the newly-injured individuals. Children as young as four years old have been killed or injured by the bombs and whizzing bullets from the battle between the government and a breakaway group of soldiers.
The M23 mutineers get their name from the date of a March 23, 2009, agreement that they would like to see renegotiated. The agreement integrated the soldiers’ rebel force into the national army.
Now, says Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the Congolese army now controls the city of Goma and the village of Kibumba in the east. The M23 rebels hold communities to the north as far as Rutshuru, 75 kilometres from Goma. Since the defections in April of this year, the most brutal outbreak of violence took place on Wednesday, July 25th when Rutshuru was taken.
Some 90 people were killed in the latest attack, which occurred two weeks ago. They represent about 20 per cent of the 500 victims treated at the MSF-supported Rutshuru hospital in the since the start of the rebellion. Only ten of these wounded people were soldiers, indicating a shift to mainly civilian casualties.
Since the mid-1990s, the eastern DRC has been a prowling ground for a number of non-state armed groups. Some of these groups were involved in regional ethnic and political conflicts.
For instance, the CBC reports that the M23 is a “reincarnation” of some Congolese Tutsi soldiers who deserted in 1998, charging the army of fighting with Hutu rebels from Rwanda.
Some Hutu rebels, including those leading the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), are responsible for perpetrating the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered. The Congolese army has refuted allegations that it is currently working with the FDLR to take down the M23.
Thousands of people have fled from fighting between M23 and government. Rebels are said to have fired mortars at the army and United Nations peacekeepers stationed in Kiwanja, where they were surrounded by about 2,000 displaced persons, reports Al Jazeera.
Now, in a displaced persons site near Kanyaruchinya, which sits on the edge of Goma, people from Rutshuru and Kiwanja must contend with another deadly foe: cholera. The first case of the illness emerged last week, says MSF, as sanitation challenges threaten to create a breeding ground for infectious disease. According to the charity, refugees are likely collecting the clean water provided with dirty containers. There is also an insufficient number of toilets for the refugees who fled the July 25th attack.
According to Al Jazeera, 13,500 families have fled to the camp over the past month. Without enough plastic sheeting to go around, most are living out in the open or in makeshift shelters of natural fibres. Some of the new arrivals are food insecure. In total, 260,000 people are thought to be displaced by the conflict, says the Montreal Gazette.
The UN’s Security Council has called on the M23 to halt any advance to Goma and has expressed concern at the humanitarian conditions of the rising number of refugees. Uganda, which has denied supporting the insurgents (as has Rwanda), will soon host a regional summit in Kampala with the aim of resolving the DRC conflict.