As the conflict in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), M23 rebels have accused the government forces FARDC of indiscriminately bombing areas with civilians as accusations continue amid the skirmishes that continue not far away from the Rwandan border.
On Thursday, following days of fighting between the rebels and the government forces, which are fighting alongside the ‘Wazalendo coalition’, FDLR militia and other armed groups allied with the government, M23 rebels who have vowed to defend their positions, claim the heavy bombardment by government forces has affected local populations.
The group has called on the international community to pay attention to the ongoing situation which could escalate an already dire situation for the populations in the territory of Masisi in North Kivu.
“We remind the National and International Community that the Government of Kinshasa is using its planes and heavy artillery against the civilian population in Kilorirwe and its surroundings. The M23/ARC continues to defend itself and protect the civilian population. The struggle continues,” the M23 spokesperson Lawrence Kanyuka tweeted on Thursday.
The development had earlier been communicated by the M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa, who also via X, formerly known as Twitter, spoke about the intense bombardment in the locality of Kilorirwe and the surrounding areas using heavy artillery, beginning on Wednesday.
Earlier on Thursday, reports on social media indicated that the rebels had targeted the fighter planes, shooting down one while the second Sukhoi Su-25 jet escaped.
“They have been bombarding the area but the boys [M23] shot back. They hit one of the jets. I saw it up in flames while the second one was hit but it managed to escape,” an unidentified witness said in an audio heard by KT Press.
In a second audio, an M23 fighter is heard saying how they had pushed out Burundian forces, known as Force de Défense Nationale du Burundi (FDNB), who they accuse of fighting alongside FARDC and FDLR, out of territories in Masisi.
It is also claimed that Burundian soldiers sustained fatalities following the exchange of fire. The Burundians are supposed to be fighting under the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) but it has been reported that they have taken sides in the conflict.
It has been reported that at least 15 Burundian soldiers have been killed in the fighting, with some bodies posted on social media showing slain Burundian soldiers allegedly dressed in FARDC uniforms. It has further been reported that the heavy losses in eastern DRC has divided the Burundian contingent with sections of soldiers refusing to engage in fighting M23.
Burundian army openly vows to fight M23
In a statement dated November 9, signed by the the FDNB spokesperson, Col. Floribert Biyereke, the Burundian army addressed reports of the Burundian contingent clashing with M23 but did not mention the losses, instead stating that M23 blocked a convoy delivering food to local populations.
“For some time, clashes between the M23 and other armed groups have resumed in several localities in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This fighting affects the daily experience of the populations living in the affected localities and has unfortunate repercussions on the execution of the mandate of the East African Community Regional Force,”
“Thus, on October 21, 2023, the convoy of the Burundian contingent of the East African Community Regional Force which was transporting food supplies to KITCHANGA and MWESO was refused passage by the M23 which blocked the route of communication leading to these two localities,’
FDNB claimed that the same event occurred again on October 30, 2023 when a convoy of the same contingent was heading towards the same positions but was blocked by M23.
” The FDNB indicates that this situation cannot continue. The Burundian contingent deployed as part of the East African Community Regional Force is obliged to take necessary measures,” the statement added.
Both the DRC government and M23 are yet to respond to these claims. Rwanda maintains that the DRC government is working with negative armed groups, including FDLR, Mai Mai, Nyatura and others to sow violence and ethnic hate, threatening regional security.