KAMPALA – The M23 rebel group withdrew from the city of Kibumba yesterday, handing their positions to an East African peacekeeping force.
It is the first time during their campaign they have withdrawn from captured territory. Deep inside resource-rich North Kivu province, the redoubt was just a few miles from the regional capital Goma, home to a million people.
In a statement released on Sunday by the East African Community Regional Force, M23 agreed to withdraw from Rumangabo and Kishishe. The rebels agreed to have fully withdrawn before the end of January 5, 2023, for the regional force to take over.
The meeting was chaired by the Commander of the East African Community Regional Force in the area, Maj Gen Jeff Nyaggah. According to the statement, during the meeting, M23 accused the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) and its militia coalition of continuously carrying out attacks on both M23 positions and civilians which violates the Luanda and Nairobi cease-fire resolutions.
During the meeting, Nyaggah asked civilians in Kishishe who fled hostilities to return and give accounts when independent investigators start carrying out investigations.
M23 ceded from Kibumba position located about 29.7 Kilometers from Goma City to East African Community Regional Force on December 23, 2022. M23 has been occupying Rumangabo since October and Kishishe since November 2022.
The DRC Government accuses M23 rebels of massacring 272 civilians in Kishishe and Bambo villages between November 29th and 30th, but the United Nations puts the number of deaths to 131 but also pins M23 for being behind the act.
M23 refutes the accusations with claims that many of the killed during the clashes were militia attached to Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR – FOCA) and armed groups Mayi-Mayi Mazembe and Nyatura Coalition of Movements for Change.
M23 only admits that eight civilians were killed by stray bullets. Heavy fighting between M23 and FARDC coalition was on Saturday reported to Kamatembe, in the middle of the Virunga Park, in Masisi territory. On Sunday morning, M23 claimed that a Colonel only identified as Mbetezi of Mai Mai militia and 95 FDLR militias were seriously injured during the Saturday clashes.