International aid agency Oxfam warned that the recent military gains by the Democratic Republic of the Congo's army (FARDC) against the M23 group does not mean an end to the bloody conflict. Many more armed groups are active in the region, putting tens of thousands of civilians at risk in the impoverished eastern province of the DRC.
In Pinga, recurrent clashes between the Mayi Mayi Cheka and a coalition regrouping the "Alliances des Patriotes Congolais pour la Libération et la Souveraineté" (APCLS), "Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda" (FDLR) and Nyatura groups have exposed the civilian population to grave violations including murder and forced recruitment leading to thousands being displaced since 2012. In South Kivu, armed groups have taken advantage of the security vacuum created by the FARDC deployment to the M23 frontlines in the past year and gained control of a large part of the territory. Oxfam added that activities by the Raia Mutomboki, the Nyaturas, Mayi Mayi groups and others there have led to 35,000 newly displaced in the past 3 months.
This week, several thousands of people are also reported to have fled from Orientale Province to Uganda due to attacks by a new armed group - the M18. This is in addition to ongoing violence due to fighting between the FARDC and the Front de Résistance Patriotique d'Ituri (FRPI).
Oxfam calls on all parties in the conflict to ensure that civilians are protected.
"Events in the past week in Rutshuru don't mean the end of troubles in the Congo. We are concerned that thousands of civilians are still exposed to violence on a daily basis. We have seen groups taking justice in their own hands and rule small towns and cities with intimidation and brutality," said Oxfam's Humanitarian Program CoordinatorTariq Riebl in Goma.
Oxfam said that the tenets of the Peace and Security Cooperation Framework, signed in Addis Ababa in February this year, must be upheld, and both the international community and regional neighbours must support the process if lasting peace is to be achieved in the Great Lakes region.
The proliferation of armed groups and resulting conflict in eastern DRC is also a constant threat to the fragile humanitarian situation in this region.
"The humanitarian needs are immense in the region. Whereas the situation is very fluid and some people are able to return home, the conflict is taking a terrible toll on basic services. Water distribution, education and health services are badly affected. Should there be a rise in displacement, Oxfam stands ready to scale up its support to affected communities by ensuring people have access to water facilities and sanitation," said Tariq Riebl.