Artillery rounds landed in a heavily populated neighborhood of Congo’s eastern city of Goma on Wednesday, killing a child and injuring other civilians a day before a planned visit by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a human rights group said.
From early morning, government troops and M23 rebels exchanged heavy weapons fire for a third straight day outside the city, the largest in Democratic Republic of Congo’s turbulent and mineral-rich east.
“A shell landed in Goma’s Ndosho neighborhood around 9 a.m. this morning, killing a two-year-old girl and wounding three members of her family, including two girls and a boy,” Ida Sawyer, Congo researcher for Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.
“The situation appears to be deteriorating, with civilians now caught up in the fighting. All sides need to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties,” she said.
An official at a hospital in Ndosho said at least six people were admitted with injuries, some of whom were in intensive care.
Fleeing residents of camps for war displaced civilians on the western outskirts of the city told a Reuters witness that four mortar bombs fell in and around the camps late on Tuesday.
The fighting was the first since November, when M23 troops routed Democratic Republic of Congo’s army – the FARDC – and briefly seized Goma, despite the presence of thousands of U.N. peacekeepers.
Peace talks between the M23 and the Congolese government in Kampala, the capital of neighboring Uganda, have stalled.
M23 is mainly made up of the members of a previous Tutsi-dominated rebel group which integrated into the ranks of the army following a 2009 peace deal.
But they deserted en masse last year and have stepped up training in their strongholds in preparation for the deployment of a U.N. Intervention Brigade with a mandate to neutralize and disarm rebel groups across the region.
The U.N. brigade will count some 3,000 troops from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi operating alongside the existing 17,000-strong peacekeeping mission.