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DRC: Fighting continues as M23 withdrawal begins

DRC: Fighting continues as M23 withdrawal begins
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Democratic Republic Of Congo

The M23 rebels have just taken control of a new town in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and remained on the offensive Tuesday, a day that should have marked the start of the withdrawal from their positions, local sources said.

According to a new timetable adopted by East African leaders on February 17, "all armed groups", including the M23, must withdraw by March 30, at the end of a three-stage process that was to have started on February 28.

Despite this umpteenth demand, the rebels are advancing in Masisi and holding on to their positions in Rutshuru, territories to the west and north of Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu.

On Monday, they seized Mweso, some 100 km north of Goma, after taking control of Mushaki in recent days and briefly occupying the mining town of Rubaya. According to a security source, fighting continued on Tuesday about 30 km west of Goma.

The M23 is also occupying sections of the last passable road linking Goma to the rest of North Kivu. Three of the four roads that serve this city of more than a million people are now cut off by the rebels.

The fourth, leading to South Kivu, collapsed due to rains in late 2022. This road, which borders Lake Kivu and leads to Bukavu, a hundred kilometers to the south, had allowed part of the army and the population to flee when the M23 took Goma in 2012.

Tens of thousands of people now live in the territories controlled by the rebellion. Like in Mweso, a town of more than 30,000 inhabitants, which is "entirely occupied by the M23", Alphonse Habimana, president of the town's civil society, told AFP on Tuesday.

Until Monday afternoon, fighting in and around the town pitted the M23 on one side against the Congolese army and armed groups on the other.

Héritier Ndangendange, spokesman for one of these groups - the APCLS, the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo - confirmed their defeat, while claiming to be "around" Mweso.

According to Mr. Habimana, residents who had fled on Monday "began to return to their homes on Tuesday," despite the presence of the rebels.

The mostly Tutsi M23 rebellion, which has been dormant for nearly a decade, took up arms in late 2021. Kinshasa accuses Rwanda of supporting it, which has been corroborated by U.N. experts, though Kigali denies it.

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