Congolese rebels M23 say they will on Thursday pull out of Rumangabo, a military camp in Rutshuru, North Kivu, they had occupied, in adherence to calls for a ceasefire under the regional arrangement.
This will become the second occupied territory the group surrenders in a fortnight to the East African regional force created under the East African Community.
“The M23 remains determined to implement the resolutions of the Luanda mini-summit and supports the region’s efforts to find peace in the DRC,” the group says in a statement.
This move comes more than a month after the Luanda summit between Rwanda and the DRC, held on November 23, 2022, mediated by Angola, and which called on rebels to surrender occupied territories or be forced to. M23 said it was doing so as a sign of “goodwill in the search for peace in eastern DRC.”
On December 23, they withdrew from Kibumba, just about 25 kilometres from the city of Goma, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
However, the pullout has been described as a “sham” by the Congolese army. Maj-Gen Sylvain Ekenge, the spokesman of the Congolese military, Fardc, denounced it as “a distraction to deceive the Congolese and the international community” as the group reinforces its positions elsewhere.
As M23 prepared to “hand over the Rumangabo”, fighting was reported in some other villages against the allied militia.
On Monday, the group seized Kisharo, a major commercial town 100km northeast of Goma. And on Tuesday, gunfire was again heard in the area, causing further displacement of civilians.
Clashes between the Congolese army and the M23 on Wednesday led to the capture of the town of Nyamilima in North Kivu. According to local civil society, the rebels are heading for a border post in North Kivu to take it.
In Kinshasa, several political and civil society actors say they do not understand the attitude of the regional force, which was supposed to have an offensive mandate in case of non-compliance with the timetable set at the Luanda mini-summit. At the end of December, Major-General Jeff Nyagah, commander of the regional force, met President Félix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa, where they discussed the “guidelines”. The military strategy adopted in the East African force continues to raise questions, however.
The regional force says it is optimistic that it can achieve peace without firing a shot. The rebels have agreed to surrender the territories they occupy but would retaliate if attacked.