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A rocket landed near a university in the Congolese city of Goma as thousands of civilians fled a fresh advance by M23 rebels that threatens to isolate the city of around two million people.
There were no casualties from the strike, which blasted a crater into open ground in the Lac Vert neighbourhood, but it underscored the potential threat to Goma, a strategic urban hub in Democratic Republic of Congo’s conflict-ridden east.
“This shows that M23 is targeting Goma now. The government has to do something to stop M23’s progress,” 25-year student Sophonie Bayonga said at the scene.
The M23 launched a major offensive in 2022, which led to military intervention and mediation efforts by East African regional leaders.
They brokered a ceasefire last year but it has been repeatedly violated.
Congo, Western powers and a United Nations expert group have said the Tutsi-led rebel group is supported by neighbouring Rwanda, which Rwanda denies.
Clashes between the rebels, army forces and self-defence groups that support them have escalated recently, forcing entire communities to flee to perceived areas of greater safety on the outskirts of Goma.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, UN under-secretary-general for peace operations, described the situation around Goma as “very worrying” after an official visit to the province this week.
“It raises the risk of a regional explosion,” he said on Wednesday, calling on the M23 to immediately cease its offensive and for diplomatic efforts to resume with all actors in the region.
He called for a reinforcement of Congolese forces in Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu, the three provinces that a UN peacekeeping force is due to leave this year as part of its disengagement from the country.