GOMA, Nov 15 — Fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo between the army and M23 rebels has moved close to the key eastern city of Goma, said an army spokesperson yesterday, causing a fresh wave of displacement amid diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict.

Clashes picked up again in North-Kivu province on Friday, ending about a week of relative calm since the group launched their latest offensive on October 20.

Battles have broken out around the villages of Kibumba, Rugari and Tongo, North-Kivu army spokesman Guillaume Ndjike said.

Kibumba is around 20 km (12 miles) north of Goma, which the M23 briefly overran during their first big insurrection in 2012.

“They are attacking but we are containing them and taking initiatives to push them back,” Ndjike told Reuters.

A Tongo resident who did not wish to be named said via telephone that the army had left and that people were fleeing en masse. A witness in Kibumba painted a similar picture.

The M23 have staged a major come-back in east Congo this year since they were chased into neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda in 2013.

Tens of thousands have fled fresh fighting that has caused a diplomatic rift between Congo and Rwanda, which Congo accuses of backing the Tutsi-led group. Rwanda denies any involvement.

Regional efforts are under way to cool tensions between the two countries and end the conflict unfolding along their shared border.

Angolan President Joao Lourenco visited both nations over the weekend after mediating talks between Congolese and Rwandan officials in Luanda earlier this month.

The Chair of West Africa’s main regional bloc ECOWAS, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, also travelled to Kinshasa and Kigali, while Kenya’s ex-president Uhuru Kenyatta is in Congo this week ahead of peace negotiations with armed groups.

An M23 leader, Bertrand Bisimwa, blamed Congo’s army for starting a war against the group.

“They are not taking responsibility for their initiative,” he told Reuters by telephone.

Hundreds have fled to the village of Kibati, around 15 kilometres (9 miles) away from Goma, in recent days.

Kibati has set up three camps for internally displaced people over the past month. Some have taken refuge in houses already abandoned by residents moving further south, according to a Reuters reporter.

Insecurity has prevented humanitarian assistance.

“I left my wife and children behind, I didn’t even take clothes,” said Ndazimana Kasigwa, 25, who came from Rugari.

At least 188,000 have been displaced in North-Kivu since October 20, according to the United Nations. — Reuters