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Violence In Congo Is The Worst In Four Years

As all eyes turn to the fighting between Israel and fighters in Hamas-controlled Gaza, another long-simmering conflict has reemerged with full force.

Bloodshed has once again come to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Congolese forces and U.N. peacekeepers, equipped with attack helicopters, battle the supposedly Rwandan-backed M23 militant group. The rebels have given the Congolese government 24 hours to begin truce talks or face a continuation of violence that is some of the worst in four years.

Refugee camps in the area are eerily empty as civilians seek safety, reports The New York Times. Tens of thousands of people have fled Goma in eastern Congo, where M23 rebels are currently waiting at the gates of the city.

M23 takes its name from March 23, the date of a 2009 peace treaty that it claims was broken by the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rebel group grew after Gen. Bosco Ntaganda initiated a mutiny of several hundred soldiers from the Congolese Army last spring. The former soldiers insisted on receiving amnesty from war crimes and more money, according to Reuters.

Ntaganda, nicknamed "The Terminator," is wanted by the International Criminal Court for enlisting child soldiers and other crimes against humanity.

Congo has pointed fingers at Rwanda for supporting the M23 group, claiming they are interested in obtaining minerals in eastern DR Congo. Rwanda has accused DR Congo of firing into its territory, although the U.S. cannot confirm these reports.

The U.K., which gave around $25 million in aid to Rwanda in September, has expressed grave concern over whether the funds are being used to support violence in eastern Congo. Minister Justine Greening, U.K. Secretary of State for International Development, said Rwanda's role in the conflict could affect next month's aid payment, on which the impoverished nation depends.

The renewed fighting poses a serious humanitarian threat in Congo, where around five million people have already died since 1998. It remains the bloodiest conflict since World War II.

(Sophia Jones is an intern with NPR News.)

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