Tens of Thousands More Displaced in DRC as M23 Rebels Make Large Advances

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.

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Tens of thousands more people have become displaced within the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as fighting between the M23 Rebels, the DRC government, and the DRC’s Southern African Development Community (SADC) allies has intensified. The M23 now sits approximately 25km (15.5 miles) away from the North Kivu provincial capital of Goma, a city of two million people.

Presently, the M23 has reportedly surrounded the town of Sake, with fighting ongoing for control of the city itself. If taken, this would represent an incredible logistical defeat for the DRC’s army, with Sake being the last road to Goma that is not yet controlled by the M23. It is unclear exactly who controls what in Sake, and if the town has fallen to the M23 rebels.

The UN has reported that across two weeks, approximately 130,000 people have been displaced by the fighting within Masisi Territory and Rutshuru territory, 42,000 of which have come from the town of Masisi itself since February 2nd. In the midst of rapid M23 advances over the past 1-2 weeks in Masisi, and in particular Mweso, the UN has attempted to open humanitarian corridors to evacuate refugees.

Mere days ago, Sake had served as a refuge for some of the people fleeing from Mweso and Masisi. Now, thousands of refugees have moved further east, and most are presently residing the town of Bulengo, which is only 10km (six miles) away from Goma, which is already home to approximately 500,000 refugees.

Repetition of History

Fresh on everyone’s minds is the successful capture of Goma by the M23 in their initial 2012 rebellion. Equally fresh is the proximity with which the rebels have gotten to Goma in recent years, having reached the outskirts of Goma in 2022, though they were unsuccessful in taking the city.

Despite them making moves to isolate the city, the M23 has stated they do not intend to seize Goma, referring to their advances as “defensive manoeuvres” in the face of attacks by the “Kinshasa Regime”, the Burundi National Defence Forces, and the SADC.

They stated their intention that “artillery and air attacks targeting our forces and/or indiscriminate shelling of civilian populations will be dealt with at their source”.

The M23 has accused the DRC and the SADC of attacking civilian populations. An accusation that has been matched by the DRC, who accuses the M23 of attacking civilian populations.

Amidst the fighting around Sake, a rocket on February 7th landed in an open area of the Lac Vert neighbourhood of Keshero, which is only 6km away from the outskirts of Goma. No casualties arose from the attack, however it has highlighted for many just how close the war has once again come to the city.

The DRC’s government has vowed to not let the rebels seize Goma, as they did in 2012.

Resumption of Hostilities

Violence broke out again between the M23 and the DRC on January 16th, after the DRC and the SADC, who has only recently deployed to the DRC, began an attack upon M23 positions in an attempt to retake territory. The DRC/SADC offensive has not gone well, with the M23 having made significant pushes since the resumption of hostilities.

The SADC’s force consists of troops from South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi. The M23 has stated that they don’t “have any particular problem with the SADC, especially the Tanzanian People’s Defence Forces”, however have accused the SADC of participating in attacks on civilian populations. They have stated if such attacks continue, they will “capture or neutralise the weapons and those operating them”, in a threat to the SADC.

The SADC deployed to the DRC in December and began military operations with the DRC on January 16th as the latest of several different intervention forces that the DRC’s government has requested assistance from.