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DR Congo celebrate recapture of town from rebels in North Kivu

Militia in Kitshanga in the eastern DRC   -  
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Democratic Republic Of Congo

At the invitation of the army and a private military company, a dozen journalists were able to visit a strategic town in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where militia loyal to the government have gained control.

Rwanda-backed M23 rebels and militias loyal to the Congolese government have battled across the area near Kitshanga recently, breaking a precarious truce that has lasted for months.

But in a rare victory against the Rwanda-backed M23, the loyalist militias earlier this month took control of the town in North Kivu Province.

Officially, the Congolese army is observing a ceasefire with the M23, but many local residents and security officials say the army is lending support to the loyalist militia.

In Kitshanga, which is close to the current frontlines, the atmosphere was calm with women selling food at the market, shops open, and dozens of armed men -- both soldiers and militiamen -- strolling about.

"At the moment we are thanking God because we can still see daylight and we can also see that the government has arrived, which is a good sign and the atmosphere is improving,” said merchant John Ishara.

“We are asking the government to chase away the enemy until they return to Rwanda and then we will feel completely safe," he said.

Another resident, Sebunane Rugubaka, said all the ethnic communities used to live in peace together and it was unfortunate that “this war from the neighbouring country has created discrimination and divided us".

Tantine Daphrose, a 30-year-old mother of six and member of the government-aligned APCLS militia, was dressed in a Congolese army uniform.

“We're fighting to liberate the country,” she said, “I abandoned my children, I abandoned a large family to fight and I'm going to defend my country to the end."

An APCLS leader, Colonel Ngowa Luwanda, said the militia was made of up of several different tribes who "say no to the invasion of our country".

"We know the enemy is still on our soil, and we’re going to pursue them to our borders, because we know the limits of Rwanda and the limits of the Congo. We're not going to invade their country. When the enemy leaves our soil, we'll go back and cease fire," he said.

The Tutsi-led M23 rebels launched an offensive in late 2021, defeating the Congolese army and capturing swathes of North Kivu, driving over one million people from their homes.

The eastern part of the DRC has been plagued by violence from local and foreign armed groups for nearly 30 years.

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