The death toll of civilian victims bombed in a camp for the displaced locals in the Lushagala site, Mugunga district in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has risen to 16, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has said.

Two mortar shells fell in the camp located 13-15 Kilometers from Goma on Friday morning following heavy fighting between the M23 rebels and Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) soldiers and coalition in the area.

Nine people died on the spot while 27 others were rushed to a Hospital in Goma City.  After the incident, M23 rebels and the DRC government/coalition released statements accusing each other of firing bombs in the camp.

Major General Peter Chirimwami Nkuba, the North Kivu province military Governor had on Saturday evening put the death toll at 14 and injured persons at 35, the majority of them women and children. But, this afternoon, SADC released a statement putting the figure of the dead at 16.

A statement signed by Barbara Lopi, the Head of Communication and Public Relations at the SADC Secretariat blamed the M23 rebels for deliberately targeting innocent civilians, a blatant violation of international humanitarian law and human rights laws and principles.

SADC also accused M23 rebels of triggering massive displacement of the population, blocking supply routes to Goma, and worsening the humanitarian situation.

SADC says it will coordinate with the DRC army and conduct operations to neutralize M23 rebels and maintain peace and security in creating a secure environment as well as protect civilians and their properties under imminent threats or attacks.

Chirimwami earlier described the bombing as terrorism and crimes against humanity and called on civilians to show resilience and resistance in the face of acts of terrorism as well as the war of aggression.

On Sunday, M23 rebels through their military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Willy Ngoma released a statement grieving with families of the victims. He, however, argues that M23 has given FARDC and the coalition in Goma and surrounding areas 72 hours to retreat or be ready to learn a lesson.

Bertrand Bisimwa, the M23 president and Deputy Coordinator of Alliance du Fleuve Congo-AFC (Alliance Congo River) also on Sunday released a statement appealing to all displaced civilians to relocate to areas under M23 conquest. 

Bisimwa argued that AFC, a political alliance with M23 is in the process of putting transport means to relocate civilians from camps especially Mugunga back to their homes and areas under M23 control arguing that the camp is not safe for them.

The latest fighting has left many FARDC/coalition positions in the hands of M23 rebels in Masisi territory. The latest position to fall on Saturday was the village of Bitonga which overlooks the towns of Minova and Bweremana.

Bitonga also allows easy access to Kalungu in the province of South Kivu. No success has been registered in uprooting M23 rebels from the captured positions four months after the deployment of foreign troops under the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in North Kivu province.


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