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Congolese city Goma under threat as thousands flee rebel advance3 min read

Congolese city Goma under threat as thousands flee rebel advance<span class="wtr-time-wrap after-title"><span class="wtr-time-number">3</span> min read</span>
GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo, Feb 7 (Reuters) – A rocket landed near a university in the Congo city of Goma on Wednesday as thousands more civilians fled a fresh advance by M23 rebels that threatens to isolate the strategic urban hub in the violence-ridden east of the country.
There were no casualties from the strike, which blasted a crater into an area of open ground in the Lac Vert neighbourhood northwest of Goma, but the attack underscored the potential threat to the city of around two million people.
This shows that M23 is targeting Goma now, they want to kill people in Goma. The government has to do something to stop M23’s progress,” 25-year student Sophonie Bayonga said at the scene.
In an region already plagued with militia violence, M23 rebels launched a major new offensive in March 2022, sparking a conflict that has led to military intervention and mediation efforts by East African regional leaders. They brokered a ceasefire last year but it has been repeatedly violated.
Clashes between the rebels, army forces and self-defence groups that support them have escalated recently, forcing entire communities in Masisi and Rutshuru territories to flee to perceived areas of greater safety on the outskirts of Goma.
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government this week promised that it would not let Goma, situated on Lake Kivu close to the border with Rwanda, fall into M23 hands.
On Wednesday, M23 said in a statement that this was not its goal and described its actions as “defensive manoeuvres”.
Civilians have borne the brunt of the violence, with many killed in bombings and reprisal attacks. Around 42,000 people have been displaced from Masisi alone since Feb. 2, the U.N.’s humanitarian office OCHA said on Tuesday.
Congo, Western powers and a U.N. expert group say the Tutsi-led rebel group is supported by neighbouring Rwanda. Rwanda denies all involvement, but the accusations have led to a diplomatic crisis in the region.


M23 made major advances in the town of Mweso and in the locality of Kirotshe last month, bringing the conflict even closer to Goma, the capital of North Kivu province that M23 briefly overran in 2012.
Natalia Torrent, head of a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) team in Mweso, said violent clashes broke out two weeks ago as the army and pro-government militia tried to reclaim the town.
After a lull, fighting picked up over the weekend and the MSF team has received 30 wounded people in recent days, she said via telephone on Tuesday.
MSF has had to evacuate some of its own staff after bullets struck a hospital in which thousands of Mweso residents were taking shelter. Most have since deserted the town.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo deployed troops at the end of January to secure a corridor for people fleeing Mweso.


Many have sought safety in Sake, a town just west of Goma.
“There was a lot of gunfire back home. The M23 burnt houses down and took everything,” said Elisabeth Rebecca, a woman displaced to Kirotshe at the start of last week, and who fled again to Sake on Sunday.
“Some of us lost our children, there were many dead and many wounded,” she said. Around her on the street, other displaced women cooked cornmeal over small open fires, surrounded by children. The conflict has brought Sake’s economy to a standstill.
“All supply routes are cut off,” said resident Leopold Muisha Busanga, who heads a local civil society group.
“Prices have rocketed and there is an influx of displaced people. Some are in houses, schools, churches and camps,” he said via telephone.
The sound of bombing and gunfire rings out daily in both Sake and Goma, residents and Reuters reporters say.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, U.N. under-secretary-general for peace operations, described the situation around the city as worrying during an official visit to the province this week.

Additional reporting by Yassin Kombi Writing by Sofia Christensen Editing by Alessandra Prentice and Mark Heinrich