The M23 rebels have retaken the village of Kishishe in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they are accused of having committed a massacre at the end of November 2022, killing some 170 people according to the UN, local sources said on Tuesday.
These rebels, backed by Rwanda according to many sources, withdrew from the village at the beginning of April, at the same time as they left other localities in North Kivu province that they had seized the previous year.
But after six months of relative calm, violent fighting resumed in early October between the rebels and the army allied with so-called "patriot" armed groups. Since then, the M23 seems to be gradually reoccupying the positions it had vacated.
Kishishe was largely deserted by its inhabitants, but fighting nevertheless took place there for two days before the army moved in, according to sources interviewed by telephone from Goma, the provincial capital.
"The invaders launched large-scale attacks," said an officer speaking on condition of anonymity, claiming that the rebels had received reinforcements from the Rwandan army. "It is Rwandans who are attacking us," he added.
"Kishishe has been controlled by the M23" since late Monday afternoon, said a local civil society representative, and this was confirmed by two security sources.
"The M23 is in Kishishe... The population has fled to (the neighbouring localities of) Kirima, Mutanda, Kanyabayonga and Kibirizi", said a village official."There is great tension in Kibirizi, where displaced people are arriving in droves", said one resident. According to him, FDLR militiamen "in civilian clothes" are also arriving in the town.
The hills around Kishishe are historic strongholds of the FDLR (Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda), an armed group created by former Hutu leaders of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
By the end of November 2022, M23 rebels had killed 171 people in Kishishe, according to the UN, mainly boys and men whom they accused of being militiamen. The M23 denies having committed such a massacre.
A mainly Tutsi rebellion defeated in 2013, the M23 ("March 23 Movement") took up arms again in November 2021 in North Kivu, which borders Rwanda and Uganda.