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Fresh clashes erupt near east DR Congo city of Goma

Goma, DR Congo, April 12 (AFP/APP): Fresh clashes with M23 rebels erupted Wednesday near the eastern DR Congo city of Goma, according to officials, rupturing weeks of relative calm in the troubled region.

A Tutsi-led group, the M23 has won a string of victories against the army and enemy militias since re-emerging from dormancy in late 2021, capturing swathes of North Kivu province.

The group also triggered a vast humanitarian crisis as it closed in on the provincial capital Goma, a trade hub of over one million people.

On Wednesday morning, armed men claiming to be Congolese patriots attacked M23 positions near Kibumba, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Goma, according to an army official who requested anonymity.

M23 fighters repulsed the attack and the army later arrested the assailants, the army official added.

Lieutenant-Colonel Guillaume Ndjike, spokesman for the military governor of North Kivu province, said the army had arrested 59 armed men, known locally as “wazalendo”, before parading them in front of the media.

He said the men were “acting on their own free will” and were “not controlled by the DR Congo’s armed forces”.

He said the army would do everything in its power to “put out of action” anyone who violates “the ceasefire wanted by the heads of state in various agreements”.

He added that the M23 were supposed to have already left the area that came under attack.

There were several weeks of relative calm prior to the attack, with troops from the regional East African Community (EAC) military force deploying to the region to oversee an intended M23 withdrawal.

M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa tweeted on Wednesday that the “Kinshasa government coalition” had attacked its positions.

Kibumba marked the furthest extent of the M23’s advance towards Goma, but the group announced a withdrawal from the settlement on December 23, which took place under the supervision of the EAC force.

The M23 retreated from the settlement but stayed put in the surrounding hills.

The group has since withdrawn from several other areas that it conquered, but the Congolese army has cast such retreats as diversion tactics.

The EAC force comprises Kenyan, Burundian, Ugandan and South-Sudanese troops, with many contingents arriving in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in recent weeks.

It is meant to supervise a staged withdrawal of the M23 from the region, but many locals are disappointed that the force is not taking the fight directly to the rebels.

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