**After M23 rebels launched a new offensive against the town of Bambo, north of Goma, frightened residents fled, men, women, and children, carrying what they could.
M23 rebels in the eastern DR Congo on Thursday (Oct. 26). launched a new offensive north of the provincial capital Goma, an AFP team observed, as fighting with pro-government armed groups continued further south.
The M23, which has captured swathes of territory in North Kivu province since 2021, is one of several militias holding sway over much of the region despite the presence of peacekeepers.
On Wednesday (Oct. 25) evening, mortar fire and rounds of automatic weapons were heard on the southern outskirts of the town of Bambo, some 60 kilometres (37 miles) north of Goma.
At midday on Thursday (Oct. 26), shells hit the town centre and thousands of panic-stricken residents began running north to reach government-controlled areas.
"We are in Bambo which has just fallen, we are continuing to fight but there are lots of rebels in the city," said a security source interviewed by telephone.
Hundreds of soldiers, police officers and militiamen were seen joining the population as they tried to escape the fighting.
"I don't know where my husband and seven children are," said Dusabe Ngurikiye, 37, who had hurriedly fled the town.
"When the bombs fell on the city, everyone fled in different directions. We don't know where we're going now, where are we going to sleep?," said a group who had escaped 10 kilometres north of Bambo.
At the end of the afternoon, medical staff contacted by telephone said they were sheltering in Bambo hospital, while explosions sounded in the background.
The conflict between the M23 and militias loyal to the Democratic Republic of Congo's government has recently intensified around Goma, North Kivu's capital and home to over a million people.
The United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA says almost 200,000 people have had to flee their homes since October 1 in Rutshuru and Masisi territory, north of Goma.
Independent UN experts, the Kinshasa government and several Western nations including the United States and France accuse Rwanda of backing the Tutsi-led M23 -- which Kigali denies.
Bambo was taken by the M23 in November 2022, and notably the nearby village of Kishishe, where it was accused of massacring 171 civilians.
The rebel group withdrew in April and had since remained some 20 kilometres away.
Further south, fighting which broke out on Tuesday towards Kibumba, some 20 kilometres from Goma, continued on Thursday, according to civilian and security sources.