Thousands of people remain fearful for their lives around a small UN base in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo after days of deadly battles between the army and a militia group, the UN and aid groups said Thursday.
Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds wounded in the latest eruption of fighting in the region at the town of Kitchanga, according to UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.
The army was reported by the UN to have seized Kitchanga back from the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo, or APCLS, on Wednesday.
"Fighting between the Congolese armed forces and the APCLS armed group has stopped but 5,000 people remain around the MONUSCO base," Nesirky told reporters.
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) workers who went to Kitchanga found the town in "devastation", the committee said in a separate statement.
The workers "found corpses lying in the streets and extensive destruction," said the statement, noting the ICRC had arrived there on Tuesday.
"The fighting had resulted in the loss of life of large numbers of military personnel and civilians, including very young children," and most residents have fled, said the ICRC.
"Kitchanga is now a vast scene of devastation. Our staff in the city are in shock. We are extremely concerned about the scale of the recent violence, which has taken place in a region already severely beset by conflicts," said Franz Rauchenstein, head of the ICRC delegation in DR Congo.
The APCLS, a longstanding militia in eastern DR Congo since the days of late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, took Kitchanga on Sunday.
The town is in the Masisi region of North Kivu province, close to where the army and UN peacekeepers are in a showdown with the M23 group.