DRC: Residents flee Ituri town as rebel fight escalates
As Eastern Congo has seen an uptick in violence in recent weeks, the Congo army alongside peacekeepers from the U.N. mission, known as MONUSCO, have continued their patrols of local districts caught up in the fighting.
Komanda, located in the Eastern province of Ituri, is one village that was retaken from rebel groups last month, according to the military.
Calm has returned to the town’s central thoroughfare and government soldiers can now be seen patrolling the streets.
Signs of the rebels retreat however are still visible.
Parts of the village have been destroyed, with shop fronts and homes left burned and charred.
One local resident, shopkeeper Kambale Fiston, told the Associated Press that seven people were killed.
“Look behind you, beyond the houses, they were set on fire by the rebels, the damage is enormous” he said.
While Fiston decided to stay in the village, other residents have fled; columns of their cars laden with belongings line the nearby roads.
One of those fleeing the violence was Marie Claire Kavira and her children.
“We are scared; we don’t know if we are safe here because every time we are waiting for the bullets to hit. It is not safe. The children cry and we don’t have anything to eat” she said.
Video footage from the AP following local troops in Komanda and Bunia the capital of the Ituri province – showed soldiers last month patrolling through the towns and surrounding areas.
Lt General Johnny Luboya Nkashama, the military governor of Ituri, told said that his soldiers began their operation at the start of October and that they successfully reclaimed several villages.
“Now the rebels are fleeing, and as they retreat they are attacking the local populations,” Nkashama said.
“Last week, they were here and we pushed them out,” he added.
During a joint Congolese army-MONUSCO night patrol in Bunia, members of the UN mission in the country distributed toll-free numbers to local inhabitants, so they can quickly call local authorities in the event of any danger, an initiative intended to ensure a sense of security in the town, according to a MONUSCO officer.
Despite the efforts by the authorities, the head of Ituri’s MONUSCO office, Josiah Obat, said the security situation has become more tense in recent weeks and that there are many obstacles facing the region; problems that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The solutions are not only military, there are many steps that must be taken politically. When we talk about community dialogue, the civil affairs section works in collaboration with all the communities, the community leaders bring the communities together to discuss the issues,” he said.
In the most recent episode of violence in the region this week, Congo’s military said that members of the M23 rebellion group had attacked a base in eastern Congo’s Rutshuru area.
The rebel group denied any involvement in the attack.
More than 120 rebel groups continue to operate across large swathes of eastern Congo since the official end of the civil wars in 2003.