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Thousands displaced in Congo’s east amid rebel, army clashes

January 29, 2022 GMT
People fleeing the fighting between M23 forces and Congolese army find refuge in a church in Kibumba, north of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Friday Jan. 28, 2022. In the past week, inhabitants from six villages in the country's east – including, Bukima, Nyesisi, and Ruhanga – have fled the violence. At least 2,000 people are now living in improvised shelters, in churches, schools or with host families. (AP Photo/Moses Sawasawa)
People fleeing the fighting between M23 forces and Congolese army find refuge in a church in Kibumba, north of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Friday Jan. 28, 2022. In the past week, inhabitants from six villages in the country's east – including, Bukima, Nyesisi, and Ruhanga – have fled the violence. At least 2,000 people are now living in improvised shelters, in churches, schools or with host families. (AP Photo/Moses Sawasawa)
People fleeing the fighting between M23 forces and Congolese army find refuge in a church in Kibumba, north of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Friday Jan. 28, 2022. In the past week, inhabitants from six villages in the country's east – including, Bukima, Nyesisi, and Ruhanga – have fled the violence. At least 2,000 people are now living in improvised shelters, in churches, schools or with host families. (AP Photo/Moses Sawasawa)
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People fleeing the fighting between M23 forces and Congolese army find refuge in a church in Kibumba, north of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Friday Jan. 28, 2022. In the past week, inhabitants from six villages in the country's east – including, Bukima, Nyesisi, and Ruhanga – have fled the violence. At least 2,000 people are now living in improvised shelters, in churches, schools or with host families. (AP Photo/Moses Sawasawa)
1 of 10
People fleeing the fighting between M23 forces and Congolese army find refuge in a church in Kibumba, north of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Friday Jan. 28, 2022. In the past week, inhabitants from six villages in the country's east – including, Bukima, Nyesisi, and Ruhanga – have fled the violence. At least 2,000 people are now living in improvised shelters, in churches, schools or with host families. (AP Photo/Moses Sawasawa)

KIBUMBA, Congo (AP) — Thousands of people in Congo have been displaced after they fled ongoing clashes between the Congolese army and rebel fighters this week.

On Tuesday, a fresh attack carried out by the March 23 Movement, or M23, targeted a Congolese army position in the territory of Rutshuru, just north of the city of Goma in eastern Congo. While authorities confirmed the attack, they did not provide details about it. Residents told The Associated Press that they saw gunfights and dead bodies.

Since the beginning of this week, inhabitants from six villages in the country’s east have fled the violence. At least 2,000 people are now living in improvised shelters, in churches, schools or with host families.

On Friday, the AP interviewed several eyewitnesses who fled to Kibumba and found shelter in a local church.

“The attack began in Nyesisi, Ngungo, Kanombe. When we were in the field on Wednesday, we heard bullets over the hills and we fled,” Baseme Mashukano, a resident of Nyesisi, one of the six villages caught in the crossfire, said. “We abandoned everything and now we are here in Kibumba. We spend the night in the church while others sleep outside, we have nothing to eat, no food, no water or medicine.”

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Another person displaced by the conflict, Sarah Kasigwa, said she lost her three children and husband amid the chaos.

“We saw several dead people” she said. “We are sleeping here, in this school, on the ground. There is just cement, no blanket, we suffer a lot.”

Tumaini Anouarite, a 32-year-old mother of five, said that she saw soldiers firing bullets in the nearby hills, and gunfights between the army and M23 fighters.

On Friday, U.N. forces deployed in the area.

The M23, which also calls itself the “Revolutionary Army of Congo”, is a former rebel group of Congolese backed by Rwanda and Uganda that was defeated in 2013. Since November, the movement has been accused of being behind several attacks against the army.

The attacks took place in the vicinity of Virunga National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site, renowned for its large gorilla population.