Rwanda-backed M23 rebels seize key town in east DRC

Kanyabayonga is home to more than 60,000 people as well as tens of thousands of people who have fled there in recent months.


Rwandan-backed M23 rebels have seized a strategic town in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s volatile east, a local official told AFP on Saturday.

“Kanyabayonga has been in the hands of the M23 since Friday evening,” the administrative official said under condition of anonymity.

Kanyabayonga lies on the northern front of the conflict in North Kivu province, which has been rocked by violence since 2021 when the M23 (March 23 Movement) resumed its armed campaign in the region.

The town is considered a pathway to the major commercial centres of Butembo and Beni in the north.

Kanyabayonga is home to more than 60,000 people as well as tens of thousands of people who have fled there in recent months, driven from their homes by the advance of the rebels.

The town is in the Lubero territory, the fourth territory in the North Kivu province that the group has entered after Rutshuru, Nyiragongo and Masisi.

“The population is there (in Kanyabayonga), especially those who had moved from the territory of Rutshuru to Lubero,” the administrative official said.

“They no longer have anywhere to go, it is total desolation, the population is tired,” he added.

One resident told AFP that the M23 asked residents to stay in Kanyabayonga during a meeting in the centre of the town held by M23 spokesperson Willy Ngoma on Saturday.

“They are going to reach Kinshasa, how far will we continue to flee?” the resident said, adding that the rebels are “promising us peace”.

“We are seeing an influx of displaced people from Miriki, Kirumba and Luofu towards the North,” military administrator of the Lubero territory Colonel Alain Kiwewa said.

“It is a situation that worries us,” he added.

Local sources told AFP on Friday that fighting between Congolese forces and the rebels was intensifying around the town.

Those in towns outside of Kanyabayonga also witnessed fighting.

“All night bullets rang out,” a youth leader in Kayna which lies some 17 kilometres (10 miles) north of Kanyabayonga said.

The youth leader, who did not wish to give his name, said those who had come to the town from the Kanyabayonga area “spent the night under the stars” and were fearful.

“We no longer know which saint to turn to,” he said.

In Kirumba, some 25 kilometres (15 miles) from Kanyabayonga, the population is in a “state of panic”, one civil society leader said on condition of anonymity.

“We can’t move anymore, where will we go? We don’t know where to go,” he said.

Clashes “are causing displacement of civilians,” the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office said in its monthly report on Friday.

“Humanitarian organisations providing support to the displaced have suspended their operations for security reasons,” it said.

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