Intense fighting erupted between the March 23 Movement (M23) rebels and a coalition of militias under the umbrella organization Wazalendo on a Wednesday in several villages in Masisi and Nyiragongo territories, North Kivu province, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, as hopes for peace through dialogue continued to wane.
The fighting occurred in Tebero, Kayovu, Nturo, Burungu, Kilolirwe, and Rugeneshi villages in Masisi territory, as well as Nyamagori, Nyamigabe, and Honero villages in the Kizimba locality of Nyiragongo territory. The clashes in Masisi forced residents to flee their affected villages toward Kitchanga. Bertrand Bisimwa, the president of M23 rebels, and the movement’s political spokesperson, Lawrence Kanyuka, released a statement on Wednesday afternoon, accusing the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) soldiers, in coalition with the Wazalendo militia, of initiating the conflict and violating ceasefire agreements. They argued that M23 had the right to defend itself.
“Since 4:30 a.m., the Kinshasa government coalition has been attacking the localities of Tebero, Kayovu, Kilolirwe, Nturo, Burungu, all of Rugeneshi, and surrounding areas. The fighting is ongoing. Mr. Tshisekedi has chosen war over peace,” Bisimwa asserted. “The Republican Guard, which committed the massacre in Goma under the orders of Mr. Tshisekedi Tshilombo, has now joined the widespread attacks of the FARDC, FDLR. The M23 is holding its positions while protecting the population,” Kanyuka added.
However, Lt. Col. Ndjike Kaiko Guillaume, FARDC Spokesperson for North Kivu Province, later issued a statement refuting M23’s accusations that FARDC was responsible for the fighting. He stated that FARDC was not involved closely or remotely, as they continued to adhere to the ceasefire as required by the agreements of the Heads of State of the Sub-Region.
At the time of the press release, fighting was still ongoing. Fresh fighting loomed after Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo reiterated his stance during the recent 78th United Nations General Assembly in New York that the DR Congo would never engage in dialogue with M23 rebels, whom he described as terrorists supported by neighboring Rwanda. He accused them of consistently killing innocent civilians in the areas they controlled and urged the UN Security Council to sanction all those responsible for serious crimes in the DRC, particularly Rwanda, which he claimed operated under the cover of the M23.
A few days after his statement, tensions escalated as FARDC took control of the Mushaki position located in Bahunde Chiefdom, approximately 40 kilometers from Goma city, from Burundian troops. Major General Peter Chirimwami, the new military Governor of North Kivu province and area Commander of Operations addressed local residents and soldiers, stating that there would be no negotiations with M23 rebels, as they were backed by Rwanda. He emphasized that the government army’s objective was to eliminate M23 from all positions.
Lawrence Kanyuka, M23’s political spokesperson, also released a statement, asserting that M23 would not back down until direct dialogue with the government was initiated. The ultimatum issued by the DR Congo government to M23, demanding their withdrawal from all positions and surrender, expired on September 25, 2023. In March 2022, the territories of Rutshuru, Masisi, and Nyiragongo fell into turmoil after the M23 rebels, led by Bertrand Bisimwa and General Sultan Makenga, launched an offensive against the government, capturing the majority of positions in fierce fighting.
The conflict resulted in the suspension of the education sector in these territories until September 4, 2023, when it resumed. Rebels began withdrawing from the conquered areas in December 2022 following the deployment of peacekeeping troops from Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, and South Sudan.
However, Tshisekedi’s recent statement ruling out dialogue prompted M23 to begin reoccupying the positions they had previously ceded. The DR Congo government accuses Rwanda of supporting M23, but both Rwanda and M23 vehemently deny these allegations. The rebels claim to be fighting against corruption, xenophobia, and discrimination in the DR Congo’s leadership.