The armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) have traded blame with M23 rebels following a spate of violence despite an existing ceasefire.
The M23 first accused the Congolese army of resuming fighting in North Kivu, where a regional military force deployed by the East African Community (EAC) has been guarding the peace, including in territories abandoned by the rebel group.
The M23 also rejected accusations it had attacked villages in the area.
“The M23 alerts the public at large that the rumours of the M23 attacking Kanyaruchinya on May 13th, 2023 and Rusayo on Monday, May 15th, 2023 are false and created for the sole purpose of tarnishing the image of the M23, and provide a pretext to the DRC government forces to resume attacks on the M23 in the likeness of its attacks of Bugusa in April 2022,” Lawrence Kanyuka, the political spokesman for the rebels.
Mr Kanyuka further added that it had informed EACRF troops of reinforcements in military personnel and heavy artillery weapons by the FARDC “in preparation for its widespread attacks on the M23.”
But, the Congolese government instead accused the M23 of reinforcing itself in preparation for renewed fighting.
“In the province of North Kivu, the RDF/M23 terrorists have reinforced their numbers in the localities of Kahunga and Kiniandoni in the territory of Masisi and Rutshuru.
“It should be stressed that these terrorists in coalition with the Rwandan army are no longer in the logic of the ceasefire, but in that of the resumption of hostilities,” said Patrick Muyaya, the spokesman for the Congolese government.
The DRC has repeatedly accused its neighbour Rwanda, an EAC member, of backing the rebels, a charge Kigali denies.
Since the beginning of March this year, the M23 and the Congolese army have been observing a ceasefire, with the rebels withdrawing from several localities. Some of these localities have been occupied by the East African regional force. According to the M23, the Congolese army is occupying the villages it left vacant.
“The M23 condemns the DRC government forces’ continuous occupation of the areas vacated by the M23...Mushaki, an area that was handed over to EACRF by M23 on March 16th, 2023, was occupied by DRC government Forces,” wrote Lawrence Kanyuka in his statement.
The rebels claim that the DRC army has killed civilians and looted cows and forced civilians to flee their villages.
Both sides agreed to a shaky ceasefire pushed by regional leaders under a summit hosted by Angolan President João Lourenço.