Democratic Republic of Congo’s army has called an M23 rebel withdrawal from a strategic town near the eastern city of Goma a “sham”, saying the militia is reinforcing its positions elsewhere.
The commander of the East African Community force, Jeff Nyagah, told reporters on Saturday that M23 was due to withdraw to Mount Sabyinyo, which demarcates the border between the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda.
But the DRC’s army stated on Saturday that the handover was a “sham” designed to distract Congolese people and the international community.
Clashes with the M23 erupted on Friday afternoon in Virunga National Park, the military said, adding that the rebels had also reinforced several positions with a view to occupying territory west of Goma.
The M23 group has conquered swaths of territory in North Kivu province in recent months and advanced to within a few dozen kilometres of Goma.
Under heavy international pressure to lay down arms, the Tutsi-led rebels took part in a ceremony on Friday to deliver the town of Kibumba to an East African military force recently deployed in eastern DRC.
The rebels had called the move a “goodwill gesture done in the name of peace”.
The DRC has repeatedly accused its smaller central African neighbour Rwanda of backing the M23, although the latter denies the charge.
The United States and France, among other Western countries, nevertheless agree with the DRC’s assessment.
‘M23 kidnapped 52 civilians’
Meanwhile, security officer told Anadolu Agency that M23 has kidnapped 52 civilians on Saturday in the Rusekera village in the territory of Rutshuru, located in North Kivu province.
Lieutenant Andrew Ruhaka said the rebels attacked the village, causing residents to flee and others were rounded up.
“The 52 people who were rounded up were forced to board a truck and were driven to an unknown place,” he said.
Ruhaka said the M23 rebels seem to be interested in recruiting new fighters since DRC and Ugandan troops began hunting and killing them in the forests in eastern DRC in an operation that started in December 2021.
He said the attack in Rusereka forced residents in neighbouring villages to also flee.