M23 rebels near the town of Mutaho, in the eastern DRC. File picture: REUTERS
M23 rebels near the town of Mutaho, in the eastern DRC. File picture: REUTERS

Goma — Gunmen seized at least two villages overnight in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) near the border with Uganda and Rwanda, a local official and an activist group said on Monday.

Lt-Col Muhindo Luanzo, assistant to the administrator of Rutshuru territory, blamed fighters from the M23, a rebel group that seized large swathes of territory in 2012 and 2013.

The two villages, Tshanzu and Runyoni, were the last redoubts of the M23 before they were chased by DRC and UN forces into Uganda and Rwanda in 2013.

Since then, there have been regional efforts to demobilise the fighters, but the group has complained about the slow pace at which a peace accord has been implemented, and some have returned to DRC.

It was not immediately possible to confirm the identity of the armed men who took over the two villages. M23 officials and spokespeople for the DRC’s army and government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Luanzo said the gunmen stormed Tshanzu and Runyoni simultaneously at about 11pm on Sunday night.

“Now our troops are conducting counterattack operations because during the night they identified the enemy coming from Rwanda,” Luanzo said.

UN investigators have accused Rwanda and Uganda, which intervened militarily in the DRC during two regional wars two decades ago, of supporting the M23. The two countries deny this.

A local activist group reported clashes with light and heavy weapons on Sunday night that forced people out of their homes and across the border at Bunagana into Uganda.

“Uganda is experiencing an influx of refugees from DRC,” said Irene Nakasiita from Uganda’s Red Cross society.

On Sunday evening, the US issued a security alert, warning of a potential attack on the provincial capital of Goma, which is about 50km to the southwest of the two villages, and advising its personnel to shelter in place.

All major streets in Goma were later filled with soldiers, a Reuters journalist said.

Reuters 

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