Fighters from a rebel group attacked an army position in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC’s) conflict-torn east overnight, triggering heavy fighting, a local official and a witness have said.
“I confirm the attack since last night on our positions,” Muhindo Luanzo, assistant to the military administrator of the eastern town of Rutshuru, near the border with Uganda and Rwanda, said on Monday.
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The village of “Runyoni is also besieged by the enemy but our troops are already deployed to respond and chase the enemy,” he added.
The clashes began at about 1am local time (23:00 GMT) near the villages of Tshanzu and Runyoni, about 50 km (31 miles) northeast of the provincial capital Goma, a witness in the latter village said.
“We don’t know who controls the area, but it looks like it’s a serious attack,” the witness told Reuters. “This time it was more intense than all the previous times.”
The Kivu Security Tracker (KST), a US-based monitor of violence in the region, said on Twitter that the fighters belonged to the M23 armed group and that fighting continued until 11am.
Early this morning, #M23 fighters attacked #FARDC positions in #Runyoni, #Chanzu and #Ndiza (#Rutshuru territory, #North #Kivu). The fighting, which continued until around 11am, caused locals to flee, particularly towards Uganda. #DRC pic.twitter.com/xd3KLtSRYS
— Baromètre sécuritaire du Kivu (@KivuSecurity) March 28, 2022
A spokesman for the M23 could not immediately be reached for comment.
In November, the M23 had briefly seized those two strategic villages in a similar overnight attack. Monday’s offensive comes three days after the group, which seized large swathes of territory during an armed uprising in 2012 and 2013, accused the army of waging war against it.
Tshanzu and Runyoni were the last strongholds of the M23 before its fighters were chased into Uganda and Rwanda in 2013 by Congolese and UN forces.
Since then, there have been concerted regional efforts to establish dialogue and disarmament. But M23 leaders have complained about the slow pace of implementation of a peace accord.
“Our organisation, the M23, which has been able to patiently wait nine years for the implementation of the peace process, deplores this dreadful option of violence,” its spokesman Willy Ngoma said in a statement last week.
UN investigators have previously accused Rwanda and Uganda of supporting the M23. Both countries, which intervened militarily in Congo during two regional wars 20 years ago, deny supporting the group.