The March 23 Movement (M23) rebels claimed on Monday afternoon to have captured Kitshumbi, a town situated on the shores of Lake Edward, northwest of Rutshuru territory in North Kivu province, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. This development signals a prolonged period of unrest and challenges to peace restoration in the area.

The town, located approximately 130 kilometers north of Goma, was reportedly taken without any shots fired, following the withdrawal of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) and their militia coalition towards the northern part of the region. Under the command of Major Célestin, the M23 rebels held a rally after the capture, urging civilians who had fled to Nyakakoma due to fear of potential gunfire exchange to return home.

They also appointed a provisional leader to govern the town and distributed phone numbers for civilians to report the return of government forces. M23’s military Commander, General Sultan Makenga, confirmed the capture of Vitshumbi in a brief statement. This seizure places nearly all vital parts of Rutshuru territory under the control of M23 rebels, with no statement yet issued by the government army. The takeover of Vitshumbi follows the recent fall of Nyanzale and Rwindi towns in the same territory.

Despite the presence of troops from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on the frontlines, there has been no reversal of positions in favor of government forces against the M23 rebels. SADC troops replaced those from the East African Community Regional force, whose mandate was not renewed by the DR Congo government in late 2023 due to allegations of failure to combat the M23 rebels.

In March 2022, M23, led by Bertrand Bisimwa and General Sultan Makenga, initiated a conflict against the government. The DR Congo government accuses Rwanda of supporting M23, although both Rwanda and M23 vehemently deny these claims. The rebels assert that they are fighting against corruption, xenophobia, and discrimination within the leadership of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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