Kinshasa, Feb 8 (EFE). – The NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Wednesday denounced a considerable increase in the flow of war-wounded patients, mostly civilians, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo due to a new upsurge in fighting between the rebel group March 23 Movement (M23) and the army.
“Medical facilities supported by teams from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have received huge influxes of war-wounded patients, as thousands of people flee the latest waves of armed clashes in North Kivu province, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. With civilians and medical facilities caught in the crossfire,” MSF said in a statement.
The NGO made an “urgent” appeal to the M23 and the army to “ensure the safety of patients, medical staff and health facilities, the protection of civilians and unhindered access for humanitarian organizations.”
“The situation is extremely worrying” at the hospital in Mweso, where fighting continues, MSF project coordinator Çaglar Tahiroglu explained.
Since Jan. 22 there has been a violent escalation between armed groups, with some 10,000 people fleeing their homes in and around Mweso and seeking refuge in the general hospital.
Fighting has intensified in recent days and many have now fled to Kitshanga, Katsiru, Nyanzale, Pinga, Kalembe, and Kashunga.
However, at least 2,500 people, including children whose parents have been killed, continue to seek shelter at Mweso Hospital.
“The hospital is overwhelmed, with thousands of people crowded inside, trying to find some protection from the fighting. Alongside the Ministry of Health, we are doing our best to help everyone, but we do not have enough necessities, such as food,” Tahiroglu explained.
In addition, as the roads linking Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, to the rest of the country have fallen under M23 control, many people are being referred to health centers in neighboring South Kivu.
MSF said that hospitals are overcrowded, there is a shortage of drugs to treat infectious diseases, and the number of victims of violence is increasing, including a growing number of survivors of sexual violence.
“Over the past four weeks, we have seen the number of weekly cases of sexual violence treated at the hospital in Minova doubling,” warned Rabia Ben Ali, MSF’s emergency coordinator in South Kivu.
The M23 resumed fighting on Oct. 1, and has since advanced on several fronts to within 20 kilometers of the city of Goma, which it occupied for ten days in 2012 before withdrawing under pressure from the international community.
The insurgents have taken control of the main roads linking the rest of the country to this strategic provincial capital, home to more than a million people and the base of numerous international NGOs and UN agencies.
More than 150,000 people have fled their homes in the area since Friday, more than half of them children, according to the NGO Save the Children.
The M23 fighting has also sparked tensions between the DRC and Rwanda over Kigali’s alleged collaboration with the rebel group, which the Rwandan authorities have consistently denied despite being confirmed by the UN.
Rwanda and the M23, in turn, accuse the Congolese army of collaborating with the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), founded in 2000 by leaders of the 1994 genocide and other Rwandans (ethnically Hutus) exiled in the DRC to regain political power in their country. This collaboration has been recognized by the UN.
Since 1998, the eastern DRC has been embroiled in a conflict fueled by rebel militias and the army, despite the presence of the UN peacekeeping mission in the country (Monusco). EFE