Heavy fighting near Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Fighting broke out on Friday between M23 militias and government forces near the city of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a European mercy plane arrived in the afternoon, sources said.

The relief mission is the first airlift announced last Saturday by the European Union to help the beleaguered city.

Clashes erupted near the village of Murambi, less than 30 kilometers west of Goma, after a day of relative calm early Friday, local officials said.

Murambi is the last settlement before the city of Sake, which is considered the last bastion of the city.

“The population is starting to panic again,” said Leopold Busanga, a spokesperson for civil society groups in Saka.

Fighting was also reported further north, about 70 kilometers from Goma, a local official said.

Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, has been under threat since the M23 launched an offensive last year after coming out of hibernation in 2021.

His promotion caused tension in Central Africa.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo accuses its neighbor Rwanda of supporting the group, which Kigali denies, and countries in the region have deployed a joint force aimed at stabilizing the region.

Independent UN experts, the US and a number of other Western countries agree that Rwanda supports M23.

Goma, a trading hub of over a million people that has also witnessed an influx of thousands of displaced people, sits on the shores of Lake Kivu.

Most land routes to the city are now cut off, and aircraft remains the only reliable way to get supplies. An EU plane is carrying emergency shelters, medicines and hygiene kits.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Friday it was “strongly alarmed” as the conflict has forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

According to the UNHCR, some 300,000 people fled to North Kivu in February alone. More than 800,000 people have been displaced in the province since March last year.

Ceasefire failure

M23, whose name stands for March 23 Movement, is one of the many armed groups that roam eastern DR Congo, many of which are the legacy of two regional wars that broke out in the late 20th century.

In 2012, a Tutsi-led group briefly took over Goma before a joint Congolese-UN offensive pushed it out.

There have been several ceasefire attempts in recent months, the latest of which was due to take effect on Tuesday.

But all failed, and M23 continues to advance.

A delegation from the UN Security Council arrived in DR Congo late on Thursday for a three-day visit to assess the situation in Goma.

The team will meet President Felix Tshisekedi and fly to the city on Saturday.

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