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Thousands sheltering in hospital as fighting escalates in Democratic Republic of Congo

Thousands of people are seeking shelter inside an “overwhelmed” hospital amid an escalation of fighting in North Kivu province in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned on Thursday.

At least 2,500 people, including children, are currently sheltering in Mweso Hospital, around 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the provincial capital Goma. MSF said medical facilities have received huge influxes of war-wounded patients.

“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,” said MSF project coordinator Çaglar Tahiroglu.

As the current wave of fighting between the M23 rebel group and the Congolese army intensifies, many civilians are fleeing. Save The Children said Thursday at least 150,000 people, including 78,000 children, have been forced to flee their homes in the past week, with thousands now on the road to Goma.

Following a visit to the province this week, the United Nations under-secretary-general for peace operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, called on the M23 group to immediately cease its offensive.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission, known as MONUSCO, is set to complete its withdrawal from the central African country this year. In recent years, protesters have taken to the streets to demand the withdrawal of UN forces for failing to rein in rebel groups, including M23.

In September last year, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi said it was “illusory and counterproductive to continue to cling to … MONUSCO to restore peace … and stability” in the country.

MSF said since March 2022, an upsurge in armed clashes in North Kivu province has forced more than one million people from their homes and caused a humanitarian disaster.

The M23 group was named after a March 23, 2009, peace deal, which it accused the government of violating. The soldiers, mostly Tutsis, became part of the national army through that accord. The DRC has accused Rwanda of backing the group, something the Rwandan government has strongly denied.

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