(New York) – Amnesty International today called on the Congolese government to take immediate measures to protect civilians, including thousands of displaced people, after M23 soldiers reportedly took control of a strategic town near the border with Uganda.
The soldiers reportedly took control of Bunagana in Rutshuru territory following heavy fighting with Congolese army (FARDC) troops over several days.
"There is a grim feeling that history is repeating itself," said Paule Rigaud, deputy program director for Africa at Amnesty International. "More people are now being displaced by the fighting, adding to those who have been forced to flee over the past months, and there is an increasing risk civilians may be caught in the crossfire."
A peacekeeper from the Indian contingent of the U.N. mission in Congo died after being hit by artillery shell shrapnel during the fighting 30 miles north of Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu province, U.N. officials reported.
About 600 FARDC soldiers are said to have fled to Uganda after they were overwhelmed by the soldiers from M23, an armed group led by Sultani Makenga and Bosco Ntaganda and composed of deserters from the Congolese army who mostly belonged to the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), which integrated into the FARDC in 2009.
Amnesty said the fact FARDC soldiers fled to Uganda is a matter of concern and again weakened the Congolese army's ability to efficiently protect the civilian population from an armed group whose capacity seems to have strengthened.
There is growing concern over the increased strength of the M23, which is reportedly planning to retake key towns, including in Masisi territory – the former stronghold of the CNDP.
"The Congolese government, through its security forces, should immediately take measures to ensure the protection of civilians. The U.N. should continue to increase its presence in areas under threat and implement its protection mechanisms to prevent violence against the civilian population," Rigaud said.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.