Air strikes carried out after M23 rebels seize territory in the eastern DR Congo, displacing at least 90,000 people in the past month.
Fighter jets from the Democratic Republic of the Congo have bombed rebel targets in the embattled east, escalating the country’s fight against the M23 group, which has seized territory in recent weeks.
Kinshasa has accused neighbouring Rwanda of backing the rebels and last week expelled Rwanda’s ambassador, raising tension between the two countries. Kigali has long denied providing support to the M23.
Jean Claude Bambaze, president of civil society in Rutshuru, a town in North Kivu province, told The Associated Press that aerial bombardments were reported in the villages of Chanzu and Musungati, about 35km (22 miles) from Rutshuru.
“We are seeing the comings and goings of Congolese warplanes,” he said. “We call on the Congolese government to finish quickly with this M23 affair because people have already fled their homes and others are confined in camps without humanitarian assistance.”
Malcolm Webb, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Goma, the capital of North Kivu, said that recent advances by the M23 has displaced at least 90,000 people since the fighting resumed in the region last month.
There was no immediate confirmation or comment from the Congolese military on the reported aerial bombardments. However, M23 spokesman Lawrence Kanyuka accused the army of attacking heavily populated areas and “trampling on the call for dialogue”.
“This warmongering option is counterproductive and puts the lives of many citizens in the areas under our control in extreme danger and exacerbates the humanitarian situation in the region,” Kanyuka said in a statement.
A mostly Congolese Tutsi group, the M23 first leapt to prominence in 2012 by briefly capturing the main city of Goma. After a peace deal in 2013, many M23 fighters were integrated into the national military.
The group resumed fighting in late 2021, saying the DRC had failed to honour a pledge to integrate its fighters into the army, among other grievances.
In a show of force, the DRC’s military began training about 3,000 new recruits on Monday in Goma.
A resident of the strategic town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border, which the M23 captured in June, confirmed to the AFP news agency that the aircraft were striking the area.
“It’s every man for himself,” he said, describing how residents were fleeing across the border into Uganda.
Damien Sebuzanane, a local civil society representative, also said Bunagana residents had fled.
The DRC deployed two Sukhoi-25 jets to the troubled east over the weekend after the M23 captured a series of settlements along an important highway leading to Goma.
Rwanda has accused the Democratic Republic of the Congo of provocation after a Congolese fighter jet entered Rwandan airspace on Monday. The DRC said it was a mistake.