GOMA (DRC), Feb. 7 (Xinhua) -- The armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) on Wednesday repelled attacks launched by rebels of the M23 March Movement (M23) in the strategic city of Sake, considered the last barrier of the city of Goma, the capital of the province of North Kivu, in the east of the country, once fallen in 2012.
In a press release published on Wednesday, the FARDC affirms that they have been activated to thwart the simultaneous attacks launched that same day by the M23 on their positions located deep in Sake.
According to witnesses in the region interviewed by Xinhua, the M23 rebels launched attack on several army positions at the height of the mountain which overlooks Sake, as the fighting lasted for several hours in the city where detonations of heavy weapons have been heard.
The fightings created panic among the population in the area and forced thousands of people to leave for the city of Goma and its surroundings. Hundreds of people in sites for displaced people in the area also headed towards Goma, saw a Xinhua correspondent on site on the road linking Sake and Goma.
The army sent several reinforcements, including the South African military as part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Force, who deployed combat vehicles and helicopters to the area to fight the advance of the rebels.
In January 2024, the DRC military announced the start of joint military operations with the military elements of SADC in the east of the country, with an offensive mandate, mainly targeting the M23 rebels which occupy several areas in the territory of Masisi and that of Rutshuru, located in the North Kivu province.
Until late Wednesday, the Congolese army plane continued to bomb the positions of the M23 rebels who retreated to their initial positions on the mountain near Sake.
In a brief press release published a few hours after this offensive, the M23 spokesperson stressed that "the M23 does not intend to seize Goma contrary to the propaganda sponsored by the state of Kinshasa". In the same statement, the rebellion reaffirms its commitment to a peaceful solution and its readiness to withdraw from its forward positions if a monitored ceasefire and a credible verification mechanism were in place.
Kinshasa has already rejected any form of negotiations with the M23 rebellion despite the fact that M23 occupies several areas in the territory of Masisi and Rutshuru, located in the province of North Kivu. On Wednesday, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix called on the M23 for an immediate cessation of hostilities.
About 42,000 people have been displaced from Masisi alone since Feb. 2, the UN's humanitarian office OCHA said on Tuesday.
The M23 is a group of former rebels of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). The name came from the March 23, 2009 agreement between the CNDP and the Congolese government. In November 2012, the M23 occupied Goma for 10 days.
After its defeat by the army, the M23 signed a peace accord with the government in December 2013, in which it agreed to demobilize its fighters and transform itself into a political party. M23 leaders, however, have accused the government of failing to respect that agreement.
The M23 is also at the heart of a new episode in the diplomatic clashes between the DRC and Rwanda. DRC authorities accuse Rwanda of supporting M23 rebels. Kigali denies any allegation of support for the M23, a charge also refuted by the rebellion's spokesman. ■