DRC Army Punches Holes in Purported M23 Disengagement

The Congolese army has punched holes in the purported withdrawal of the M23 rebels from their positions in Kibumba in Nyiragongo territory in North Kivu province. 

On Friday afternoon, the rebels led by their Military Spokesperson, Major Willy Ngoma, and Colonel John Imani Nzenze announced that they had ceded their position in Kibumba about 29.7 kilometers from Goma City to the East African Community Regional Forces officials led by their Commander, Major General Jeff Nyagah. 

M23 rebels had held on to the strategic position along the Goma-Rutshuru road since November this year. M23 has since March this year captured several areas of Rutshuru territory including the Uganda-DR Congo borders of Bunagana and Busanza. In a statement, M23 claimed that the withdrawal from Kibumba is meant to demonstrate to the DR Congo government that they are ready for dialogue to find a permanent solution to the conflict. 

The statement also indicates that the decision is aimed at giving the DR Congo government an opportunity to implement the resolutions in the Luanda and Nairobi summits to restore peace in the country. On Christmas, General Sylvain Ekenge, the Congolese army Spokesperson released a statement arguing that the withdrawal of M23 from Kibumba is a trap and publicity stunt by M23 to sway public opinion. 

Ekenge alleges that the rebels are instead in the process of occupying other strategic positions instead of rejoining their positions in Tchanzu and Runyoni in Mount Sabinyo as initially announced. He says that rebels are only trying to distract the Congolese and the international community. 

According to Ekenge, all rebel units that disengaged from Kibumba instead of returning to their initial positions of Sabinyo in accordance with the decisions of the Luanda mini-summit of November 23, 2022, are taking another direction to the positions of Tongo, Kishishe, and Bambu, with the intention to occupy Masisi territory.   

Ekenge says that M23 is targeting to occupy the city of Sake, in the territory of Masisi, about 30 kilometers from the city of Goma. In his rejoinder on his Twitter handle,  Bertrand Bisimwa, the M23 president insisted that their disengagement in Kibumba on December 23, 2022, is neither a decoy nor a publicity campaign as the Kinshasa government would like to justify the continuation of the actions of its FARDC, FDLR, and Mai-Mai coalition against Congolese civilians.       

Fighting is ongoing on in  Marangara and Kakuka in Tongo locality, Rutshuru territory. According to locals, Congolese troops and its militia collaboration are launching assaults of heavy and light weapons against M23 rebels. The November Summit in Angola’s capital, Luanda attracted leaders from DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and Angola, and former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. 

It was agreed that M23 rebels immediately cease fire, withdraw from all the captured positions in 48 hours and assemble in Tchanzu and Runyoni.  The agreement also called for the cessation of all support to armed groups including the M23 and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) as well as the resumption of dialogue between Rwanda and DRC leading to the normalization of diplomatic relations.  

The leaders also resolved that the M23 rebels hand over all their military equipment or else face a regional force agreed upon by the East African Heads of State. The same resolutions were made by the Nairobi summit. But, M23 has only withdrawn from Kibumba.  

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