Belgium condemns the continued clashes between the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and presumed M23 rebels in the Eastern part of the country, which have forced at least 37,000 people to flee their homes in the North Kivu province.
The M23 is a former Tutsi rebel militia, which was defeated in 2013 by Congo's armed forces but reappeared at the end of last year. Earlier this week, M23 fighters attacked the military base in the town of Rumangabo, reports Reuters. Since the clashes started four days ago, violence has spread to Nyiragongo Territory near Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province.
"Thousands of families have been forced to flee the renewed wave of violence. Some had to walk for more than 20 kilometres to arrive in the outskirts of Goma, and more are reported to be on their way," said Caitlin Brady, the Norwegian Refugee Council's country director in Congo.
In dire need of humanitarian assistance
"This morning, staff visited sites where the displaced people are arriving. They urgently need food, drinking water, latrines, and emergency shelter," she added. The International Rescue Committee (IRC), too, warns that displaced families who have found shelter in local churches and schools are "in dire need of humanitarian assistance."
"The objective, for now, is to protect our teams who are providing humanitarian assistance in the areas affected by the clashes," said Adama Coulibaly, IRC's Country Director, adding that "while there were fewer clashes between the FARDC and the M23 today, the situation remains uncertain."
Further north, on the border with Uganda, at least 19,000 people are still in vital assistance, after heavy fighting has disrupted aid delivery in recent days.
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"Unhindered access and timely delivery of humanitarian assistance is fundamental for the protection of all displaced and conflict-affected populations," said Brady. "This new escalation of violence is threatening the humanitarian community’s capacity to provide timely support in a region where 1.9 million people have already been displaced."
She stressed that proper assistance to families in need can only be delivered on the grounds of lasting peace and stability.
The renewed fighting occurs amid the peace talks in Nairobi, where all parties to the conflict are discussing security arrangements. NRC and IRC call on all actors to seek solutions for a lasting peace not only in Congo, but also in the wider Great Lakes Region. "They must do everything in their power to prevent the return to full-scale war in the region."
Belgium calls for urgent de-escalation
In the meantime, Belgium has also officially condemned the violence, and in particular the attacks by the M23 against the FARDC and the United Nations' MONUSCO peacekeeping troops.
"The protection of civilians is imperative in armed conflict and targeting civilians is against international law," the Belgian Foreign Affairs Department stressed. "Once again, the first victim is the civilian population."
Additionally, as the ongoing fighting is also a threat to the Virunga Park, Belgium salutes the determination of the eco-guards and the officials of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) who are working to protect it.
Belgium calls on all parties involved for "an immediate cessation of hostilities and an urgent de-escalation." The country supports the UN statements, and calls for using existing dispute-resolution and joint-incident verification mechanisms. It also condemns any incitement to hatred targeting certain communities.
Belgium recalls its attachment to the territorial integrity of the DRC and continues to seek a political solution to the insecurity in the east of the DRC, together with regional actors and partners. It will also continue to support the FARDC and MONUSCO, including by training rapid response forces.