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M23, FARDC fighting intensifies as DRC pushes for EACRF troops withdrawal

Force Commander (FC) of the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) Maj Gen Aphaxard Kiugu. DRC wants the troops out of their country

North Kivu, DRC  | THE INDEPENDENT | Fighting between the March 23 Movement (M23), the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) and the militia coalition under their umbrella Wazalendo (patriots), intensified on Sunday in Masisi territory.

Since Friday, fighting has raged in Kirolirwe along the Kitchanga-Sake road. This as the deadline for troops under the East African Regional Force (EACRF) to leave North Kivu province draws near.

Bertrand Bisimwa, the M23 President on Sunday released a statement accusing FARDC and militia coalition of conducting attacks and claimed that M23 rebels are only defending themselves.

He also accuses FARDC soldiers and militia coalition of looting locals’ property in Kikuku and Nyanzale.    “Resumption this morning of the bombing of civilian homes and other public and private infrastructures by the coalition of the Kinshasa regime throughout the area around Kirolirwe. Meanwhile, the FARDC units in disarray are currently ransacking the localities of Kikuku and Nyanzale where systematic looting of houses, livestock, shops, hospitals, schools, churches, etc are reported”, Bisimwa said.

But, Nndike Kaiko Guillaume, the army spokesperson for North Kivu province claims that FARDC is preventing M23 rebels from advancing towards Sake town.

The DRC government has set December 8, 2023, for EACRF troops to leave Congolese soil.

Troops from Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, and South Sudan were deployed in North Kivu province in late 2022 to reclaim positions that were previously held by the M23 rebels after they defeated the FARDC soldiers.  The regional troops also aimed to establish a buffer zone to prevent further clashes between the two groups.

This was in accordance with resolutions made and approved by the East African Regional Heads of State Conclave held on April 21 2022 in Nairobi, 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.

However, the DR Congo government accused the troops of not fighting M23 rebels. M23 also recently accused Burundian troops of violating the mandate by handing over part of the positions it had occupied to FARDC and Wazalendo.

It also accused Burundian troops of joining the fight in the coalition of FARDC and Wazalendo.

Efforts by East African Community officials to convince the DRC government on Friday during the 23rd Ordinary Summit held in Arusha, Tanzania to renew EACRF troops’ mandate hit a dead end.

DRC now plans to deploy troops under the Southern Africa Development Cooperation (SADC).

In March 2022, M23 rebels led by Bertrand Bisimwa and General Sultan Makenga launched a war against DRC. 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.

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