There is uncertainty about the status of the conflict in parts of east DRC, although M23 rebels agreed to a ceasefire.
United Nations intelligence analysts have spotted suspected movements by M23 rebels in parts of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from which they were meant to have withdrawn, internal UN documents show.
There were also signs the armed group has seized ground in other areas, amid uncertainty about the exact status of the conflict in the Kibumba area, which the rebels were meant to have left as of December 23 as part of a ceasefire brokered by East African leaders.
“Their total withdrawal from the area has not yet been confirmed,” wrote the Joint Mission Analysis Centre (JMAC), a UN intelligence unit, in a confidential report covering the period from December 26 to January 3, and seen by Reuters news agency on Thursday.
“Suspected M23 movements were still sighted in the area,” it added.
The report also highlights examples of M23 violently seizing new territory elsewhere even after they participated in the ceremony to hand over Kibumba to East African Community (EAC) forces in what they called a goodwill gesture under the ceasefire.
“Several clashes involving M23 were reported during the week, resulting in M23 taking control of further areas, notably threatening Kitchanga, Mweso, Sake, Kilorirwe, Mushaki and Nyamilima, and raising serious PoC (Protection of Civilian) concerns.”
On Wednesday, the M23 denied reports of its failure to leave Kibumba, saying it had withdrawn from its positions there as of December 23. It added that it was committed to the agreement reached by regional leaders in November for the M23 withdrawal from recently seized positions and allow thousands of displaced people to return to their homes.
At least 450,000 people were displaced last year in the new offensive by the Tutsi-led rebel group, which the DRC government, the European Union and a UN expert group say is supported by neighbouring Rwanda.
The M23 has conquered swaths of territory in the eastern DRC since it launched its latest offensive in late 2021.
Rwanda denies any involvement in the M23’s resurgence, but the accusations have led to a serious diplomatic crisis in the region.
Earlier this week, a spokesperson for the EAC force told Reuters the withdrawal had been effective but said “a few administrative non-combatant elements from M23 on the outskirts of Kibumba are in the final phase of withdrawal”.
Last Friday, presidential spokeswoman Tina Salama told Reuters President Felix Tshisekedi remained committed to the ceasefire agreement.
“We all know they [the M23 rebels] have not completely withdrawn,” she said, adding that the group technically had until January 15 for the full withdrawal. “There will be a reassessment at that time.”
The M23 was also meant to have withdrawn from the strategic military town of Rumangabo by this Thursday. However, on Wednesday, the EAC postponed a planned handover ceremony, saying it was still assessing the security situation.