With alleged backing from Rwanda and Uganda, M23 fighters say they will march on the capital, Kinshasa.
Joseph Kabila, the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has sacked the chief of land forces over UN accusations he runs a huge arms smuggling network supplying several groups, including Congolese rebels, a spokesman said.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende told reporters in Kinshasa on Thursday, that the measure was temporary, pending a “thorough investigation” into General Gabriel Amisi’s activities.
“This report mentioned an officer, a general of the FARDC, General Major Gabriel Amisi, Army Chief of Staff of
our terrestrial forces, who will be subjected to the discipline and military rule.
“The President has decided to suspend him with immediate effect and release him of all his duties, for the purpose of an inquiry,” Mende said.
A report by the UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo released this week accuses Amisi of overseeing a network that provides arms and ammunitions to armed groups and elephant poachers.
The sacking of one of DR Congo’s top military leaders comes two days after the regular FARDC forces suffered a humiliating setback when the M23 rebel group drove them out of the main eastern city of Goma.
Among those Amisi is accused of selling arms to is the Mai-Mai Raia Mutomboki group, which is believed to be responsible for hundreds of deaths in recent months in eastern DR Congo and is thought in some instances to have allied itself with the M23.
Battle for Sake
“The good news, as many of you know already, is that this afternoon the Congolese armed forces took back control
– Lambert Mende, Congo’s government spokesperson
Government officials said on Thursday that Congolese troops had launched a counter-offensive and had managed to take back the rebels who rejected calls from African leaders to quit the eastern city of Goma.
Thousands of people fled the area of clashes around Sake, as M23 rebel fighters rushed from Goma to reinforce their positions against the army counter-offensive.
“The good news, as many of you know already, is that this afternoon the Congolese armed forces took back control of the city of Sake, situated 27 km from Goma, a city which had fallen as you know, in the hands of M23 rebels Wednesday, yesterday,” Lambert Mende, Congo’s government spokesman, said.
But Al Jazeera’s correspondent Nazanine Moshiri in Goma, said on Friday that despite the Congolese army’s claims to have taken back Sake, the United Nations confirmed that the M23 rebels were still firmly in charge of the city
The M23 rebel movement, widely believed to be backed by Rwanda, has vowed to “liberate” all of the vast,resource-rich country after taking Goma, a provincial capital on the Rwandan border, ramping up tensions in afragile region.
About 500 rebels made an initial advance on November 15. About 64 rebels were killed by army forces backed by UN helicopter gunships, it said. But two days later, the rebels returned in far greater numbers, launching a new attack with 3,000 men.
The UN Security Council has expressed “concern at reports indicating that external support continues to be provided to the M23, including through troop reinforcement, tactical advice and the supply of equipment,” but did not name Rwanda.
The rebellion was launched eight months ago by mutinous troops accusing the government of failing to stick to a 2009 deal with fighters to end a previous conflict.
On Saturday, leaders of Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda are expected to attend a regional summit in Uganda to discuss the escalating crisis in the eastern DR Congo.
African Union Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma will also attend the extraordinary summit of the 11-member regional bloc, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).
DR Congo’s Joseph Kabila and rival Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame – whom the United Nations accuses of backing the M23 rebels who seized the city of Goma on Tuesday, claims Kigali rejects – will be at the Kampala summit.