Fighting between the March 23 Movement (M23) militants and the Armed Forces of Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) soldiers erupted in the Masisi territory immediately after the peacekeeping East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) started to withdraw from North Kivu Province.
On Sunday, the first batch of Kenyan troops which was the first to put boots on the ground in North Kivu exited. About 300 troops boarded a plane at Goma International Airport after the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government declined to renew the peacekeeping mission troops’ mandate set to expire this week on December 8, 2023.
The DRC government accuses EACRF troops of failure to launch an assault on the M23 rebels. On Monday, heavy fighting between the belligerents erupted in Kilorirwe, Karenga, Kabati, Rumeneti, and their surroundings in Masisi territory. M23 rebels were seen at Kagoma hill in the village of Malehe as the FARDC and militia coalition shelled their positions from Kiabati-kingi. The fighting caused massive displacement of civilians towards Sake.
Lawrence Kanyuka, M23 rebels' political spokesperson released a statement accusing FARDC soldiers and militia coalition of launching attacks.
“It should be noted that since early this [Monday] morning the coalition forces of the Kinshasa Government, notably the FARDC, FDLR, MERCENARIES, MILITIA and THE NATIONAL DEFENSE FORCES OF BURUNDI have been massacring the civilian population in revenge for their FDLR comrade killed yesterday in Tuwonone, known as Colonel Ruhinda. At the same time, the forces of this evil coalition of the Kinshasa Government launched widespread attacks against all our positions in Kilorirwe, Karenga, Kabati, Rumeneti and their surroundings. The M23 continues to defend itself and protect the civilian population and its property. The humanitarian crisis is unprecedented," said Kanyuka.
There was no immediate statement from FARDC. The mandate of troops from Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and South Sudan deployed in North Kivu province in late 2022 was to reclaim positions that were previously held by the M23 rebels after they defeated FARDC soldiers and to establish a buffer zone to prevent further clashes between M23 rebels and FARDC soldiers.
This is in accordance with resolutions made and approved by the East African Regional Heads of State Conclave held on April 21, 2022, in Nairobi, as well as the Extra-Ordinary Summit of East African presidents (Bujumbura) on February 4, 2023, and the decisions of the Chief of Defense Forces of February 9, 2023, in Nairobi.
In March 2022, M23 led by Bertrand Bisimwa and General Sultan Makenga launched a war against the government. The DRC government accuses Rwanda of backing M23, but Rwanda and M23 strongly deny it. The rebels claim to fight against bad leadership in DR Congo based on corruption, xenophobia, and discrimination.