Rutshuru, DRC - Rebel fighters on Monday pushed to ring a regional capital in Democratic Republic of Congo, as medical charity MSF said it had treated scores of wounded civilians and was sheltering hundreds.
The so-called M23 rebels are moving toward the key city of Goma, the regional capital of Nord-Kivu province. The mountainous and resource-rich region bordering Uganda and Rwanda has long been torn by ethnic violence and power struggles.
The M23 last week launched its drive for Goma, which they intend to encircle and take "without firing", Colonel Innocent Kayima told AFP.
The United Nations mission in DRC and has on several occasions scrambled helicopter gunships to push back the rebels.
The group is made up of Tutsi fighters who were integrated into the regular army in 2009 but mutinied in April over pay and conditions.
Since then, the regular army has been mired in back-and-forth conflict with the rebels, who have increasingly scored humiliating defeats over the army.
Kinshasa has accused Rwanda of sponsoring the rebellion and M23, a charge Kigali denies.
International charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, said Monday about 1 000 people had sought shelter in its hospital in Rutshuru, about 75km north of Goma, since 24 July when rebels began their offensive.
The group said it had treated 66 people, many of them suffering injuries from bullets, shrapnel and rockets. A man and a five-year-old girl died from their wounds.
Most of the injured had to undergo emergency surgery, MSF said, adding that it was the first time since May that fighting had centred on civilian areas and many people had fled the area in panic.
"People are afraid and they don't want to go home," said Patrick Wieland, the head of MSF's mission in the area.
Additionally, several thousand others have fled to Kanyaruchinya, a small town a few kilometres north of Goma.
In total, more than 470,000 Congolese have been displaced in eastern DRC since April: 220,000 in North Kivu, 200 000 in South Kivu and at least 51 000 to neighbouring Uganda (31 600) and Rwanda (19 400).
The UN says it has received reports of indiscriminate and summary killings of civilians, rape and torture.