Thousands of people have fled the town of Pinga in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo following renewed fighting between rival armed groups in the area, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders – MSF) has said.
Jan Peter Stellema, the head of MSF operations in Goma, said on Friday that civilians in the area have had to face regular cycles of violence, The Associated Press reported on Monday.
“Pinga has changed hands eight times in a year and civilians are caught between a rock and a hard place,” he added.
Most of the population fled into the nearby forest, while some civilians have taken refuge in the town’s hospital, Stellema stated.
The town, located on the border between the Masisi and Walikale territories, has been the scene of fighting between the Mai Mai Checka and the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo, better known by its French acronym APCLS.
On May 2, MSF said that 11 members of its Congolese staff had gone missing, but Stellema said on Friday that two staff members have since been accounted for and the relief group expected to hear from the others soon.
Several armed groups, including the March 23 movement (M23) rebels, are active in the eastern Congo and fighting for control of the country’s vast mineral resources, such as gold, the main tin ore cassiterite, and coltan (columbite-tantalite), which is used to make many electronic devices, including cell phones.
The M23 rebels seized Goma on November 20, 2012 after UN peacekeepers gave up the battle for the frontier city of one million people. M23 fighters withdrew from the city on December 1 under a ceasefire accord.
The M23 rebels defected from the Congolese Army in April 2012 in protest over alleged mistreatment in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). They had previously been integrated into the Congolese army under a peace deal signed in 2009.
Since early May 2012, nearly three million people have fled their homes in the eastern Congo. About 2.5 million have resettled in Congo, but more than 460,000 have crossed into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on since 1998 and left over 5.5 million people dead.