Troops and rebels traded heavy fire in eastern DR Congo on Monday, a military source and local inhabitants said, as an envoy from the East African bloc pursued efforts to hold a “peace dialogue” on the region’s troubles.
Government forces and the M23 militia were fighting in Kibumba, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the strategic city of Goma in the North Kivu province, the sources said, speaking by phone.
M23 fighters were also seen about 40 kilometers to the northwest of the city in the Virunga National Park, a wildlife haven famed for its mountain gorillas, but which is also a bolt hole for armed groups, the sources said.
A mostly Congolese Tutsi group, the M23 — the March 23 Movement — leapt to prominence in 2012 when it briefly captured Goma before being driven out.
After lying dormant for years, the rebels took up arms again in late 2021, claiming the DRC had failed to honor a pledge to integrate them into the army, among other grievances.
They have since won a string of victories against the military and captured swathes of territory, prompting thousands of people to flee their homes.
The resurgence has ratcheted up diplomatic tensions, with the Democratic Republic of Congo accusing its smaller neighbor Rwanda of backing the group.
Kinshasa expelled Rwanda’s ambassador at the end of last month as the M23 advanced, and later recalled its envoy from Kigali.
Rwanda denies providing any support for the M23 and accuses the Congolese army of colluding with the Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) — a notorious Hutu rebel movement involved in the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda.
“The Rwandan army and its allies from the M23 don’t stop, every passing day, launching assaults on our different positions in Kibumba,” army spokesman for North Kivu, Lieutenant Colonel Guillaume Ndjike told reporters.
School canteens pillaged
As happened late last week too, witnesses spoke of World Food Program-backed school canteens being pillaged in the rebel-held town of Kiwanja on Sunday and Monday.
“There was corn flour and oil. They took these provisions as food rations,” a resident said.
Another said oil cans, flour sacks and beans had been taken away by truck the previous day.
Eastern DR Congo was the location of two bloody regional wars in the 1990s.
That conflict, along with the Rwandan genocide, bequeathed a legacy of scores of armed groups which remain active across the region but especially in North Kivu.
The heads of the seven-nation East African Community (EAC) on Sunday announced they would hold a “peace dialogue” on the region’s problems.
EAC’s mediator, former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta arrived in Kinshasa Sunday for talks aimed at paving the way for the meeting, set to take place November 21.
The bloc has not spelt out who will take part in the talks or how long they are scheduled to run.
Another diplomatic path is being explored by Angolan President Joao Lourenco.
He met Friday with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and on Saturday with Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi.