Fri. Dec 3rd, 2021

Overnight, gunmen seized the villages of Tshanzu and Runyoni, the last stronghold of the M23 group before their defeat years ago.

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

Lieutenant-Colonel Muhindo Luanzo, assistant to the Rutshuru area administrator, on Monday blamed the attack on fighters from M23, a rebel group that seized large parts of the area in 2012 and 2013.

The two villages, Tshanzu and Runyoni, were the last barrier of M23 before being chased to Uganda and Rwanda by the Congolese and United Nations forces in 2013.

Since then, there have been regional attempts to demobilize the fighters, but the group has complained about the slow implementation of a peace agreement and some have returned to the DRC.

It was not immediately possible to confirm the identity of the armed men who took over the two villages.

M23 officials and spokespersons for the DRC’s army and government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Luanzo said the gunmen stormed Tshanzu and Runyoni simultaneously late Sunday night.

“Now our troops are carrying out counter-attack operations because during the night they identified the enemy coming from Rwanda,” Luanzo told Reuters by telephone.

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

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

“Uganda is experiencing an influx of refugees from DR Congo,” said Irene Nakasiita of Uganda’s Red Cross Association.

Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, who reported from Nairobi in neighboring Kenya, said some of the people fleeing claimed to have recognized some of the commanders of the M23 group – who were accused of violating rights.

“Hundreds of people crossed the city of Bunagana,” Webb said.

The United States issued a security warning on Sunday night, warning of a possible attack on the provincial capital Goma, which is about 50 km (31 miles) southwest of the two villages, and advised its staff to take refuge in place.

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

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