DR Congo’s military used newly deployed jets to bombard M23 positions in the east of the country today (Tuesday) November 8, 2022, officials said, with some residents of rebel-held territory fleeing across the border.
A mostly Congolese Tutsi group, the M23 first leapt to prominence in 2012, briefly capturing the main city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Goma, before being driven out.
After lying dormant for years, the group took up arms again in late 2021 claiming the DRC had failed to honour a pledge to integrate them into the army, among other grievances.
M23 rebels have won a string of victories against the Congolese army in North Kivu province in recent weeks, dramatically increasing the territory under their control.
Their resurgence has cratered relations between the DRC and its smaller neighbour Rwanda, which Kinshasa accuses of backing the M23.
On Tuesday, a Congolese security official who asked for anonymity said war planes were bombarding the rebel-held Tchanzu area of North Kivu and would continue “all day”.
A resident of the strategic town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border which the M23 captured in June confirmed to AFP that the aircraft were striking the area.
“It’s every man for himself,” he said, describing how town residents were fleeing across the border into Uganda.
Mr Damien Sebuzanane, a local civil-society representative, also said that Bunagana residents had fled.
The DRC deployed two Sukhoi-25 jets to the troubled east over the weekend, after the M23 captured a series of settlements along an important highway leading to Goma.
One of the planes violated Rwandan airspace yesterday (Monday) November 7, 2022 although Kinshasa said the incident was a mistake and not intentional.
Despite official denials from Kigali, an unpublished report for the United Nations seen by AFP in August pointed to Rwandan involvement with the M23.
The report also said the M23 plans to capture Goma in order to extract political concessions from the government in Kinshasa.
Neither the DRC government nor the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in the country, known as MONUSCO, had officially commented on the bombings by late Monday.
The M23 claimed the Congolese government had sent warplanes and helicopters to bomb “heavily populated areas killing innocent people”.
It also accused the government of trampling on dialogue efforts.
Several diplomatic initiatives are underway to try to ease tensions in eastern DRC, including one from the seven-nation East African Community which is due to launch its own peacekeeping mission in the region shortly.
The regional bloc stated on Monday that East African leaders had reaffirmed their commitment to finding a political solution to the conflict in eastern Congo.
By AFP – Agence France Presse