Overwhelmed DR Congo town cut off after rebel attacksFri, 15 Mar 2024 06:57:25 GMT

Wedged between Lake Kivu and the Masisi mountains in eastern DR Congo, the town of Minova has been severed from the rest of the country by fighting between rebels and government troops and collapsed infrastructure.Minova has effectively become an island since M23 (“March 23”) rebels cornered several units of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s army (FARDC) into Minova Bay in February, with all their land supply routes cut off.Small wooden boats and emergency helicopters are now the only means of escape for the 65,000 residents and 300,000 displaced people sheltering in Minova.The town has no power or supply lines, according to Jean-Paul Kanku, a governing chief for Minova and 12 surrounding villages.”At the beginning of February, the M23 sabotaged the medium-voltage power line.”The telephone aerials, powered by generators, “have run out of fuel” because supplies are no longer accessible being too close to combat zones, Kanku said, adding “all that’s left is (the network) Airtel, and even that gets through very badly”.In recent weeks, the Tutsi-led M23 have been extending control north of Goma, the largely isolated capital of North Kivu province, and beyond Minova — seizing towns and Congolese army bases.In mid-2022 the rebels, accused by DR Congo, the United Nations and Western countries of being supported by the Rwandan army, began to implement their administration in the vast swathes of the North Kivu region that they had captured since resuming arms in 2021 after eight years of dormancy.Tens of thousands of soldiers, UN peacekeepers and so-called wazalendo (patriot) armed fighters have tried in vain to recapture even the tiniest of villages.Now Congolese and Burundian soldiers and militiamen roam around Minova town centre with weapons slung across their shoulders.An administrative official from the town, speaking to AFP under the condition of anonymity, denounced the recruitment of “children 12 and 13 years” for the army. Above the town’s main avenue, hundreds of hungry and displaced people have crammed into Pastor Euclide Bagalwa’s church.Under a blazing sun, a boy holds a makeshift wooden cross and leads a young boy carrying a dead child wrapped in cloth on his back down the avenue.Just hours earlier, Burundian soldiers had children carry boxes of ammunition on their heads down the same avenue. Rwanda neither admits nor denies the allegation it is backing the M23.- Supply routes -The main road linking Minova to the big city of Bukavu “is a footpath” and has been cut off for three years, according to Kanku. “If the worst happens, the (soldiers) won’t be able to flee… the enemy sees everything on the lake.”The lack of supply routes is catastrophic for the local hospital run by the Catholic Church.”This very morning, we asked Goma to send us bandages, infusions, catheters and painkillers by boat,” said overwhelmed doctor Djibril Kasereka. The hospital has received at least 280 people injured by the conflict since early February when the M23 captured the coastal villages north of Minova, he added.Bodies decompose in their body bags as the morgue is out of action, and soldiers go without vital X-rays as machines have been down since the rebels cut the power line, Kasereka said, examining a soldier’s bloodied foot.Another member of hospital staff agreed the situation was dire, as some of the wounded soldiers “threaten us, say they will kill us”.”They do not understand why they are not getting any medicine, but in reality there is no medicine, or very little.”Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the International Red Cross (ICRC) are doing their best to support the hospital but the organisations are already overwhelmed by the hundreds of victims who have flocked to Goma’s health facilities since January.Goma now hosts nearly a million displaced people. The only way out of the city, which is surrounded, is by the lake, airport or the Rwandan border.