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M23 rebels seize more territory from government in eastern DRC

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M23 (March 23 movement) rebels captured the mining town of Rubaya in eastern war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo after violent fighting with government forces, local sources said on Wednesday.

After eight years of inactivity, the Tutsi-majority M23 rebellion took up arms again in late 2021 and seized large swaths of North Kivu province, about forty kilometers (25 miles) northwest of its provincial capital, Goma.

Local residents told AFP on Tuesday that the rebels had entered the city center after a morning of fighting. Local officials confirmed their presence there on Wednesday.

“Rubaya has been under M23 control since yesterday afternoon. We left the city yesterday afternoon,” a Congolese police official, who requested anonymity, told AFP.

The Rubaya mines in North Kivu contain strategic minerals used in electronics, including coltan.

“The M23 is in Rubaya,” confirmed a spokesman for the wazalendo, or patriots, an armed group fighting the M23 together with the Congolese army.

“The enemy killed civilians, it is not known how many,” he said, adding that the rebels had “recovered packages of cobalt” from artisanal miners.

A health center official said three civilians were killed, including a woman and two men, and that bullets wounded seven people, including a child. According to the source, about ten combatants were also killed.

Witnesses said the rebels asked residents to continue their activities as normal and hand over any weapons they may have.

On Wednesday the city was calm and “we continued our activities,” said a merchant.

According to Kinshasa, the United Nations and Western countries, neighboring Rwanda supports the M23, which Kigali denies.

“The M23 continues to advance towards the north of North Kivu, but also towards (the neighboring province of) South Kivu,” said the UN humanitarian coordinator in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bruno Lemarquis, on Tuesday.