Thousands flee DR Congo

November 24, 2012 - 4:19:50 am

SAKE, DR Congo: Thousands of civilians yesterday fled a rebel advance in eastern DR Congo as regional leaders prepared a summit on the crisis which the UN said had blocked access to camps sheltering tens of thousands of displaced people.

The M23 rebel group, army mutineers who took the regional capital Goma on Tuesday and the key town of Sake the next day, appeared to halt their rampant advance just south of Sake after battles with government forces and an allied local militia, a United Nations source said.

Thousands of people were fleeing Sake heading east toward Goma, and the local head of a relief agency reported numerous casualties.

“There are bodies lining the road” leading south from Sake, Thierry Goffeau, the head of the Goma chapter of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), said without giving specific figures.

UN experts have accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing the M23 - a charge both countries deny - and the guerrillas’ escalating assault has raised fears of wider conflict erupting in the chronically unstable region.

The army has proved unable to contain the rebellion, despite being backed by a massive UN peacekeeping operation that deployed attack helicopters in a bid to protect civilians from the M23’s advance.

UN peacekeeping spokesman Kieran Dwyer said the UN was considering using drones for the first time to monitor the fighting.

“Unarmed aerial vehicles, drones for monitoring the movements of armed groups, are one tool we are considering,” Dwyer said. 

“Of course, we would do this carefully, in full cooperation with the government of the DR Congo, and trialling their most effective uses for information-gathering to help implement our mandate to protect civilians,” he added.